Inspire me: you have two minutes

I’ve been watching the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C, and it’s made me think a lot about campaign speeches.  Now, one big advantage the speechifiers in Charlotte seem to have is time – -for example, Bill Clinton was supposed to speak for 28 minutes but he spoke for almost 50 minutes. Did you notice anyone trying to get him to stop talking? I didn’t.

When you are speaking to an audience,  you want them to first of all pay attention. Have you ever spoken to a room of people that was more interested in talking to each other than they were interested in hearing what you had to say? I have, and it’s awful.

Once you (hopefully)have the audience’s attention,  you  want to inspire them — to make them feel something after hearing what you have to say. Finally, you want to spur them to action — to take the feelings you inspired and translate those feelings to donating money or time for the cause.

I’m a little jealous of the convention speakers because here in San Francisco — where local candidates make the rounds of more than two dozen political clubs and organizations– we usually get about two minutes. I challenge anyone to first capture the attention of a jaded group of political operatives who have heard 10,20 or 30 canddiates over the course of a day and then to inspire  said group of political operatives to remember what you said — and then like it enough to vote for you at the end of the day.

That’s the job of a candidate– incumbent or challenger. In 2008, when I was a challenger, I wrote about this two-minute speech. Now, since I’ve been on the Board for four years, I’ve updated the speech to read (more or less verbatim, though the version below takes three minutes to recite):

Hi, I’m Rachel Norton, and I’m running for re-election to the Board of Education.  Four years ago, I promised to hold the district accountable for:

  • Increasing the achievement of all children and narrowing the achievement gap
  • Increasing transparency in district decision-making and communication with all stakeholders
  • Transforming the district’s special education services.

I’m proud to say that I’ve kept those promises.

  • Expectations for students are higher than ever with the implementation of the new A-G graduation requirements. Test scores have risen every year I’ve been on the board, and the achievement gap is narrowing, despite a very painful and prolonged budget crisis.
  • I’ve used my web site, as a vehicle for communicating with constituents, explaining district decision-making and getting important information out to the public. In addition to writing about important issues facing the district, I post recaps of every Board meeting, and answer questions and comments from readers.
  • The district commissioned a top-to-bottom audit of special education in 2010, and has begun a complete redesign of the way we provide support and individualized instruction to students with disabilities. I’m very proud of the fact that full inclusion is now an option at every school in the district, rather than a select few.

As a parent of two middle schoolers, one with special needs, I’m pleased about the progress the district has made, but I’m not satisfied yet. Both my daughters will enter high school in the next few years, and I want to be sure there are challenging, engaging programs that will help support them and encourage them to reach their dreams. I want to continue to closely monitor the outcomes of our redesigned student assignment system and the ongoing work in special education. I want to support our new Superintendent and leadership team in meeting our strategic plan goals of Access and Equity, Student Achievement, and Accountability.

There’s lots of work to still to be done in our 14 Superintendent’s Zone schools, particularly those in the Bayview, which have long been the City’s most under-resourced and under-attended schools.  It’s time to stop talking and start improving our district’s student nutrition infrastructure, which will require money for updated facilities and staff to cook fresh meals for students, not reheat frozen food as we currently do. Finally, our budget will remain very thin for the foreseeable future – particularly if neither Prop. 30 or Prop. 38 on the ballot pass in November.  Steering the district through the “nuclear winter” that could result will require a Board that is cohesive and committed to doing what is best for students, even when it is difficult.

Over the past four years, I’ve proved myself to be a hard-working, well-informed and responsive member of the school board, and I’ve earned a second term. My endorsements include the Democratic Party, SF Parent Pac, Richmond District Democratic Club, President of the Board of Supervisors David Chiu and Supervisors Scott Wiener, Sean Elsbernd, Mark Farrell, Carmen Chu, and Eric Mar, School Board president Norman Yee and Commissioners Jill Wynns and Emily Murase, as well as District Attorney George Gascon and State Senator Mark Leno.  I would be honored to have your endorsement as well.

Sometimes, you show up at an endorsement meeting and you only have one minute to speak. Sometimes, you have three minutes, with two additional minutes for questions. (Surprisingly, I’m best at the question and answer part — you’d think I’d hate the uncertainty but I find answering constituent questions to be much more relaxing than the opening statement).  So, part of being a candidate is being able to adjust your stump speech on the fly.


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