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 www.teamkj.org

“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”>

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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; www.facebook.com/suzilevine

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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!

This is the President we worked hard to elect….

I highly recommend watching this video from the President about the dangers of the debt ceiling. . For the first 10 mins, he enumerates how we got where we are and how we go forward.

Pick up the phone and call your (and other) members of congress!

“Did Haman ever do anything good?”

This past Sunday was Purim – my favorite Jewish holiday – for many reasons.  But the most recent reason is because of my daughter’s intensely provocative curiosity.

Between the ages of 0 and 18, it was my favorite because it is festive, has a great story, has clarity around good and evil and has a happily ever after.

But then I got to University where it became my favorite because of Vashti.  The married woman who, when her husband wanted her to dance at a party he threw, had the chutzpah to say no.  Granted, she got whacked for saying no – but still.  In fact, my kids also think that Vashti is top character in the story.

This past weekend, I learned that I love it for the opposite of some of the initial reasons why I loved it.  There is no clarity, the happily ever after is somewhat imbalanced and the characters are all flawed.  What drove me to this?  The question my 5 yr old asked about Haman:

“Did Haman ever do anything that was good?”

Think about that.  We had just spent a morning hearing about this story in which this man tries to kill all the Jews and my child asks whether Haman did anything good.  Which begs the question: Does everyone have some good in them?  We talked about him possibly loving or caring for his sons and his horse.  My child asked if Haman was nice to Queen Esther.  Maybe?  but who knows.

Making Ricotta Latkes (kind of like a cannoli pancake)

Porad’s rendition of Ricotta Latkes
1 (15-16 ounce) container of ricotta cheese
4 large eggs or 1 cup egg substitue
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 -1 tsp vanilla
2 tblsp butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup flour
Mix the ricotta, egg, sugar and vanilla in the food
processor. Add butter, then flour.
Too cook. Heat butter in a frying pan or use a non-stick pan with no butter or oil. Use 2 tablespoons of batter for each latke.
Serve with jam, applesauce, plain or vanilla yogurt, chopped fruit for optional garnishment.

Life Lessons from a Tesla

Start with IMPACT.

No – not a crash – although that definitely was a lesson learned – see below.

When telling a story or trying to sell something – start with how that thing is going to have impact.  And don’t just tell – SHOW.

The other night, I had the pleasure of test driving a Tesla. (see below for a note about the experience).  The main thing I recall from my experience, in addition to the sensation of being batgirl – is that the car I was driving had saved 4 barrels of oil in its short life on earth.  I know that because on their main info screen they show how many gallons of gas and barrels of oil you’re saving.  And Tesla is extremely consistent in this point around saving barrels of oil.  Here’s a recent press release on a showroom opening.  The 2nd paragraph is about their impact.  Of course it furthers their reason for being – but hey – imagine if every company and/or product was up front with the impact they were going to have in the world?  In fact – why don’t you share your thoughts on examples – serious, funny or other?

In terms of “impact” in the car crash mode – that, too was something very memorable – as one of their other key showing points is that, in accidents, their carbon fiber body fairs much better than many other materials.

Important disclaimer – I’m not a car person – and am typically happy in my aging Prius or mini-van but a very generous friend obtained this experience in an auction and we were the happy invitees to the experience.  That said – I HIGHLY recommend going to your nearest Tesla showroom and giving it a whirl.  I’ve never felt like bat-girl before, but definitely got a sense of what it would be to take the batmobile out for a spin – including the turbo jets on the back 😉