Dear Dr. Nyland,
In the past few days, Seattle Public Schools has offered several recommendations for how we are to speak with our children regarding the abrupt removal of their principal, David Elliott, from Queen Anne Elementary. I am writing this letter in response, on behalf of my children, Ruby, Asa, and Zane Desai.
I first met David Elliott in the spring of 2007 on a tour of Coe Elementary. As he concluded the tour, perched on the corner of an empty classroom desk, encircled by anxious, and inquisitive parents, I was struck by his candid and open demeanor. We had found our school. This is a man who lives by principles and not by systems.
In 2010 when we discovered that David Elliott had been asked to open a new elementary school in Queen Anne, it did not take us long to decide to follow him there.
When the teacher he picked to teach 2nd grade agreed to meet at my neighbor’s house for an informal Q and A, we made a plan for all our incoming 2nd grade children to play outside. At the conclusion, certain she would want to get home, we thanked the teacher, Katie Cryan-Leary, for meeting with us. She thanked us and then asked, “Is it okay if I go outside to talk with the kids now?” And so began the school governed by principles, and not by systems.
In the nearly nine years since that first tour at Coe, I have seen David Elliott outside, rain or shine, greeting each and every child as they arrive at school in the morning, and depart in the afternoon. This is not a part of his contract. I have seen him on daily classroom rotations; often on his knees to get a better look at a student’s work. This is not a part of his contract. I have seen him deeply inspire hundreds of school children on the merits of perseverance. This is not a part of his contract. I have seen a succession of dozens of David Elliott’s handwritten birthday cards to my children, well-loved with food stains and taped precariously to their bedroom walls. This is not a part of his contract. Even though my twins have an August birthday, his letters arrive in the mail.
As a kindergartner at Coe, my daughter Ruby (now 13) was struck by a car in a crosswalk in North Bend. The following day, I answered the door to find David Elliott and Ruby’s kindergarten teacher, Christie Stabelfeldt, bearing a giant kindergarten-class-made get well card. This is not a part of his contract.
I applaud the PTSA for welcoming and supporting interim principal, Amy McCue Jessee. I reject the SPS-implied rhetoric that in order to continue supporting our school and the new interim principal, we must stop asking questions and accept the contract-invoked, forced resignation of David Elliott.
I stand with the staff, teachers, and classroom coordinators who, with clarity and autonomy of mind, decide to keep their classrooms informed regarding the movement to reinstate David Elliott, despite pressure to desist from the unseen powers that be.
According to the SPS website, “Dr. Nyland says his personal mission has always been to bring people together to do what it takes to improve student success.”
Dr. Nyland, permit me to quote the motto of your alma mater, Roosevelt High School: “What I am to be, I am now becoming.”
Our children are to be informed, compassionate, and active citizens of a democratic nation. Their “becoming” is fostered by curiosity, respect, self-advocacy, and perseverance. Our children, SPS students, have witnessed their universally beloved principal removed by people who, to my knowledge, have never set foot on Queen Anne Elementary grounds.
We are, and always have been, coming together to improve student success. Where are you?
David Elliott is a leader who walks alongside our children, literally and figuratively. Perhaps my favorite thing about him is how contagiously inspirational he is. He is an avid lover of nature, sometimes writing blog posts for no other reason than to tell his families to take in the splendor of fall leaves at Discovery Park, or to share a picture of the rare and glorious “hair ice” he found on the Pacific Crest Trail.
As a frequent reveler in the majesty that is the Olympic Mountain range and National Park, I want to leave you with a story. On September 30th, 1937, President Franklin Roosevelt arrived at Port Angeles amid an embroiled battle between conservationists and the US Forest Service for the rights to much of what is now the Olympic National Park. According to wikipedia, the President was greeted by more than 3000 school children. According to historylink.org, “a banner hung across the courthouse saying: Mr. President, we children need your help. Give us our Olympic National Park.” The Roosevelt High School band, “burst into spine-tingling strains of ‘The Star Spangled Banner.’”
“Mr. Mayor and my friends of Port Angeles,” the President said, “That sign is the appealingest appeal I have ever seen in my travels. I am inclined to think it counts more to have the children want that park than all the rest of us put together.”
And I am inclined to think it counts more to have the children want their principal than all the rest of us put together.
Please, Mr. Superintendent, we children need your help. Give us our principal, David Elliott.