Vivian Song Maritz has been hearing-impaired her entire life, but this disability has developed into a remarkable ability to be a highly attuned and perceptive “noticer” of what is needed and important to others and to the community.
In a world that seems increasingly divided and characterized by a lot of noise and little action, Vivian demonstrates a talent for quietly making space for many, and giving time to everyone who needs it. This gift, in combination with her financial acuity, powerful sense of loyalty, devotion to her community, deep-rooted generosity and commitment to public schools, has motivated her to throw her hat, mind and spirit into running for a seat on the board of directors for Seattle Public Schools. We caught up with her to learn more about why she is running.
What motivates you to run for a seat on the board of directors for Seattle Public Schools?
I am the parent of four current and future Seattle public school kids, the youngest of whom graduates from Seattle Public Schools in 2035. You could say I have some skin in the game!
I feel tremendous urgency to serve our community right now. A year and a half after the emergency pandemic closure, we must tackle the simultaneous crises: Racism, mental health and learning loss all loom large, together with a large budget deficit.
I see an opportunity to “build back better” as we emerge from the pandemic, and I am eager to do this hard work. My unique background will uplift the needs of our marginalized communities. My financial and operational skills can ensure a budget that reflects our values. And my genuine desire to work collaboratively will get us the support we need from community, city and state stakeholders. I want all students and staff at Seattle Public Schools to succeed.
What issues are your “hot buttons” and why?
We need to establish mental health as an essential service to reengage students who are falling behind, especially following the COVID-19 pandemic. Our students cannot be expected to learn without providing needed mental health support after the trauma of this pandemic.
We need a budget that reflects our values. Seattle Public Schools has a $1 billion budget and a $70 million shortfall for 2021–22. Without better financial management, we will be unable to meet our goals.
We need to fix our transportation system. My two parents worked three jobs between them, and I relied on the yellow school bus to get to and from school. Too many families do not have the transportation support they need. We need to refocus our resources with an equity lens, and at the same time, partner with city and metro leaders to get our kids to school.
We need to recommit to excellence. We need to invest in and expand the programs that will draw families and staff to Seattle Public Schools and fully unleash the creativity and skills of our teachers and principals.
As a mother of four, what unique concerns do you have for Seattle public school families at this time?
Like other Seattle families, I struggled with inconsistent communication and predictability from our district with regard to plans for returning to school buildings. This impacted families in many ways, from the uncertainty of when and how school buildings would reopen to no yellow bus transportation for working families this spring when hybrid learning became available.
My friend found out just one week before the end of the school year that her second-grade daughter was referred to summer school because she needed more support for reading. She already arranged and paid for summer child care. She needs to make the difficult choice of having reliable child care so she can go to work or getting her daughter the reading support her teachers recommended before she starts third grade. Thinking ahead to this fall, [I believe] Seattle families need better communication and predictability from the district.
As an Asian American, what distinct perspectives would you bring to this board role?
I grew up as an Asian American in an auto-manufacturing town during the era when Japanese competition was forcing some factories to shut down. I know firsthand the kind of vicious racism or hate some students experience at school. I feel for all students who experience this, Asian or otherwise.
As a director, I see an opportunity for me to uplift the voices of our Asian students, families and staff, and contribute to making Seattle Public Schools a safe and inclusive place for everyone. This will include recruiting more teachers and staff of color; continuing our progress on anti-racist education; and expanding programming, such as dual-language immersion schools, that reflects the unique needs of our students and families.
What specifically about your candidacy do you believe attracted endorsements?
One of my endorsers pointed out that I have gotten endorsements from “people I do not agree with on much, except for our support for you!” I have a genuine desire to work collaboratively with all stakeholders, and I think many people find this refreshing. I also believe they recognize what I will bring to the table. I know the issues, I do my homework, and I am ready to lead with passion and dedication.
I am proud to receive endorsements from people and organizations I have long admired, including the 36th District Democrats, [among them] state Sen. Reuven Carlyle; former school board directors Eden Mack and Kay Smith-Blum; education advocate Summer Stinson; among others.
What do you see as the current top strengths and challenges of this current school board?
I’m grateful to our current school board directors (and their families!) for their public service, especially given the intense pressure of being a leader during this pandemic. The current school board is committed to equity and racial justice, as am I. Among the resolutions passed this year are a declaration that the lives of Black students matter and designating a day of observance in honor of the life and legacy of Billy Frank Jr., a Nisqually tribal leader.
To succeed, the board needs to set clear goals and to make sure their time and governance model is aligned with reaching those goals. The board has understandably been very reactive in the past year, but now is the time to turn to outcomes. I will work with my fellow board members to establish goals, define the metrics and outcomes that we want to see, and then support the district staff as they execute.
An additional opportunity for the board is to work much more collaboratively with other elected leaders. The mayor and the school board have clashed on some issues in the past year: child-care centers, homeless encampments on school property and more. State officials have told me they have little to no communication with the board, despite 65 percent of its funding coming from state sources. Engaging our city and state officials is necessary for our district to get the resources needed for students and staff to succeed.
How can you have an impact on recruiting and maintaining an outstanding superintendent so that the school system is able to build on strengths and overcome its greatest challenges?
We need to abandon this idea that a single person will come to our district and “save our schools.” With six superintendents over the past 10 years, we should see that superintendents have come and gone, and yet, challenges remain. That said, we owe it to our 53,000 students to select a leader with the experience and skills needed to lead a $1 billion organization.
As a board, we need to set clear and specific goals that are realistic within a three-year tenure, and the board needs to be in alignment with these goals. When the board is working well together, the superintendent is supported. Just like students succeed when they have great teachers, and teachers succeed when they have great principals, our superintendent needs a great board to support him or her.