Last May, inspired by a similar feature in St. Louis Magazine, we posed a question to dozens of our city’s leaders (and to our friends on Facebook and Twitter), asking them this: If you had a blank check with which to do anything to improve our city, what would you do?
Every time someone’s “big idea” came in, it was like opening a present; we are honored to have folks like Tom Douglas, Josh Feit and Knute Berger share what’s on their minds. I especially love urban planner Dan Bertolet’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs–esque weather social change machine, as well as attorney and Four Peaks’ cofounder Kraig Baker’s idea to fund a “gap year” at any age.
A couple of recurring themes quickly became evident as we read through our contributors’ passions: transportation and education. Picking up one of those threads, my idea for the city is really more like a wish: that more families in the city of Seattle would choose to send their children to public schools.
I pass no judgment on people who send their kids to private schools and completely understand the agonizing decisions regarding educating your children, especially those with special needs. But I can’t help but think that if more people who have the means to affect change would get involved—instead of opting out—our schools would be getting a lot more attention than they already are. And the positive results could trickle down to everyone in this city, from increased property values to reduced dropout rates to an undeniable boost in civic pride.
I am a product of public schools and had a great K-12 education (in the Racine, Wisconsin school district); some of the courses I took in college couldn’t hold a candle to my high school classes. I believe in public education systems, but I write this with some degree of naïveté. We are still in what I call the “elementary school bubble”; the schools in our part of town (Ballard) are all excellent, and we are doubly fortunate that our sons’ school, in particular, is a vibrant, arts-focused school with talented teachers and staff who differentiate teaching to all levels of learners. As long as our kids’ needs are being met, we plan to stay. I hope I still feel this way come the middle school years.
So if I had that blank check, I’d write one big enough to give every Seattle public school’s PTA at least $200,000 a year, so that parents who spend countless hours putting together fundraisers and school auctions could free up their time to support teachers. And the only strings attached would be that art and music never get shortchanged. Pie in the sky? Sure, all of these big ideas are, but the momentum needs to start somewhere.
We could fill a year’s worth of magazines with what people have to say on education and transportation alone, so we decided to continue “Big Idea” (page 134) online at seattlemag.com. One idea that’s easy enough to do (and not so polarizing) is to shop locally in every way you possibly can. But I’m not just talking about farmers’ markets. When you get that “back to school” shopping bug, this issue’s shopping feature beckons you with dozens of reasons to do so, from shops that are defying the recessionary Grim Reaper to page after page of incredible statement jewelry pieces that you can proudly wear—and say they were made in Seattle.