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Shaping the Destiny of the Seattle School District

Story by
Nancy Joseph

When Barbara Schaad-Lamphere (‘77) graduated from the UW with a B.S. in psychology, she had no intention of becoming a leader in public education policy. But life—and kids—had a way of changing her plans. Now Schaad-Lamphere is president of the Seattle School Board.

Schaad-Lamphere first became involved with public school activism in the late 1980s as a parent volunteering for the PTA. “It was a challenging time for Seattle’s public schools,” she recalls. “But the more I got involved in the PTA at the local and then district level, I could see we were at an important crossroads. If the Seattle public schools didn’t work hard in the next ten years toward becoming great, they could fall apart.”

Black and white photo of a woman

After quickly rising through the ranks at the PTA, Schaad-Lamphere decided to run for the Seattle School Board in 1995. “I had so much excitement and optimism,” she recalls, “and I realized that the School Board, as a policy-setting body, really helps shape the destiny of the district.”

Schaad-Lamphere started on the School Board four months after John Stanford signed on as Seattle’s superintendent of schools. “It was an incredible time to be on the Board,” she says. “I thought we really needed a spark; I never imagined we’d get a blowtorch. He was an unbelievably charismatic leader that came at just the right time for Seattle.”

When Stanford died three years later and left an entire city mourning, Schaad-Lamphere—by then president of the Board—was immersed in the search for his replacement. “It was daunting and very sad and very emotional,” she recalls. “But we couldn’t afford to sit back a single day. We had great momentum and we didn’t want to lose it. With that in mind, we hired Joseph Olchefske, John Stanford’s chief operating officer, who has continued with the reforms initiated by Stanford.”

My UW education gave me a great base. It gave me a way of approaching life and study by developing my analytical thinking and research skills. It really mirrors what we’re working toward in K-12 education.