A quick thought about the Seattle School Board

This is the year, if there ever was one, to really change Seattle Public Schools. In addition to the four seats up for election this fall, two additional school board members in Seattle (Betty Patu and Zachary DeWolf) have announced their desire to resign this year and vacate their seats early.

The school board only has seven members to begin with. By the end of this year, we could essentially have a completely new school board. I've written more about this that I'll share tomorrow, but I just want to plant the seed for now.

Our school board has been a dysfunctional roadblock to change for too long. Imagine six new champions for equity filling these school board seats. Think of what's suddenly possible!

This is a rare opportunity. Let's make the most of it.

An outdated update on the Seattle School Board science curriculum debacle

An outdated update on the Seattle School Board science curriculum debacle

Above all, if we don't know what impact this will have on marginalized communities in the district, then we need to find out. If we're serious about wanting to close the opportunity gap, then the first and most important question we need to ask about every single decision concerning our students and our schools is what impact it will have on Black students. What impact will this have on low-income families in Seattle? What impact will this have on Seattle Public Schools’ indigenous students? What impact will this have on the kids we talk about wanting to uplift?

If our outcomes are ever going to change, then our decision-making processes have to change. Otherwise, we will continue to end up in the same places again and again and again.

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Stephan Blanford: Seattle students, lagging behind other districts, deserve a new science curriculum

Stephan Blanford: Seattle students, lagging behind other districts, deserve a new science curriculum

Our kids deserve better. They deserve a school board and a community that prioritizes “students furthest from educational justice.” The school board can show it is serious about its values by approving the recommended science curriculum.

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Washington is now the first state to pass 'mandatory acceleration' legislation

From a press release written by Katie Gustainis, Marketing and Communications Director with Stand for Children Washington:

Washington State is now the first state in the country to adopt an automatic enrollment policy for advanced math, English, and science classes in all high schools. The policy, also known as Academic Acceleration, is designed to reduce historic barriers to dual credit and advanced class enrollment, especially for underrepresented students. In addition to reducing enrollment disparities in advanced courses, the attainment of college-level credit in high school also reduces financial barriers for post-secondary opportunities.

“Stand for Children and our tireless advocates will continue to strengthen programs that work to lift more kids toward bright, successful futures,” said Libuse Binder, Executive Director at Stand for Children Washington, a longtime champion of the policy and legislation. “If students are qualified for advanced coursework, we expect to see them challenged and ultimately surpassing every indicator of student success.”

The policy was included as part of HB 1599 (section 502, page 49) in an amendment introduced by Senator Mark Mullet, passed by the state legislature on April 22 and was signed by Gov. Jay Inslee on May 7, 2019. School districts have until the 2021-22 school year to implement the policy, and the law also allows families to opt their student out of the advanced classes if desired.

The 2019-2021 biennium budget passed by the Washington State Legislature includes funding to provide for dual credit programs including subsidized Advanced Placement exam fees and International Baccalaureate class fees and exam fees for low-income students.

Stand for Children Washington, a bipartisan education advocacy organization, championed the legislation as partners in the High School Success Coalition along with Black Education Strategy Roundtable, College Success Foundation, Graduate Tacoma, Treehouse, and Washington Roundtable.

What is Academic Acceleration?

Academic Acceleration is a process where students who meet standard on state-level exams are automatically placed into the next most rigorous course in the matching content area(s). As of 2018, at least 50 school districts in Washington have already implemented the policy and a majority have improved the equity of advanced classes by enrolling more historically underserved students (Stand for Children analysis of OSPI data, 2018). The program seeks to rectify historic bias that has limited access for students of color and other underserved groups to advanced education options.

Research on Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), and dual enrollment programs (partnerships between high schools and colleges) show that advanced, college-credit earning programs increase students’ likelihood to graduate from high school, enroll in college, and to perform better in college. There is also evidence that these effects are particularly profound for low-income students and students of color (see references).


Policy has Roots in Federal Way and Tacoma School Districts, 2013 Legislation

The commitment to ensuring equitable opportunities in advanced coursework in Washington  was pioneered by Federal Way Public Schools - the state’s 9th largest district - when its school board implemented an Academic Acceleration policy in 2010-11. The district saw a dramatic rise in enrollment of advanced classes with a notable increase for students of color. According to 2019 data, passing rates for advanced classes at Federal Way are at 92% and all racial subgroups are passing at rates of 87% or higher.

"I saw the dramatic benefits of academic acceleration firsthand when the policy was instituted while serving on the Federal Way School Board in 2011, and those benefits, particularly for  scholars of color, have continued,” said Sen. Claire Wilson of the 30th legislative district, vice-chair of the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee. “It surpasses my greatest hopes for my first year as a lawmaker that this opportunity-gap-closing strategy will be available to all students in school districts across our state. Equitable access to academic acceleration is a fundamental, essential investment that enables more scholars, particularly those from communities of color, to fulfill their potential and thrive in the diverse communities to whom we look for new generations of scholars and leaders.”

Sen. Wilson was also the co-sponsor of the Academic Acceleration policy’s original legislative vehicle, SB 5343.

Inspired by the success in Federal Way, in 2013 the Washington State Legislature passed HB 1642, championed by Stand for Children - Washington, which established the Academic Acceleration Incentive Program to encourage adoption of the policy with grants for school districts. As recently as 2016-17, school districts who received the grant and implemented the policy saw significant gains in enrollment by students of historically underrepresented populations (OSPI, 2018).

"Every kid deserves to know they are capable of tackling any challenge and that they are worthy of the opportunity to try,” said Rep. Eric Pettigrew of the 37th district in South Seattle, the prime sponsor of the 2013 bill. “After six years of pursuing this policy, I’m so proud of this outcome and everyone that helped us get there.”

Tacoma Public Schools — the state’s fourth largest district — followed Federal Way’s lead in 2014-15 and has similarly seen dramatic increases in enrollment across all student groups. Enrollment in advanced classes has doubled from 27.5% to 71.1% for all students since 2013 and tripled for historically underserved students of color from 19.5% to 60% (Tacoma Public Schools, 2019).

“We’ve seen huge results in Tacoma with more kids taking these classes and these exams. And that corresponds with more kids graduating. And as those numbers go up, we have to remember that each one of those numbers is a kid,” said Josh Garcia, Deputy Superintendent of Tacoma Public Schools and one of the original architects of the policy in Federal Way.

References: Advanced classes improve graduation rates and post-secondary enrollment

Linda Hargrove, Donn Godin, and Barbara Dodd, College Outcomes Comparisons by AP and Non-AP High School Experiences (New York: The College Board, 2008).

Chrys Dougherty, Lynn Mellor, and Shuling Jian, The Relationship Between Advanced Placement and College Graduation (Austin, Texas: National Center for Educational Accountability, 2006).

A. Berger et al., Early College, Early Success: Early College High School Initiative Impact Study (Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research, 2014);

Anna Rosefsky Saavedra, "The Academic Impact of Enrollment in International Baccalaureate Diploma Programs: A Case Study of Chicago Public Schools," Teachers College Record 116, no. 4 (2014);

Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics, Longitudinal Impact of the AP Experience Among Advance Kentucky Students (Frankfort, KY: Author, 2013);

What Works Clearinghouse, WWC Intervention Report: Dual Enrollment Programs (Washington, DC: US Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences, 2017).


Relevant Press on Academic Acceleration and Dual-Credit Programs


Stand for Children - Washington

Stand for Children - Washington is a non-profit education advocacy organization focused on ensuring all students receive a high quality, relevant education, especially those whose boundless potential is overlooked and under‑tapped because of their skin color, zip code, first language, or disability. To fulfill our mission, we organize parents and community members to speak up and demand excellent schools for their children. We work closely with state legislators to shape education policy and with school districts to implement programming that will benefit every kid. We ensure that the policies we fight for reach classrooms and directly support students by supporting school districts with guidance and tools to implement successful strategies.

We need to choose a middle school for our son. How do we make an informed decision?

We need to choose a middle school for our son. How do we make an informed decision?

In the Seattle area, choice is a privilege that not all families benefit from. Economic privilege is inextricably linked to school choice — school performance (as measured by assessment scores) correlates to median household income, so higher-performing schools tend to be in the higher-income areas of the city. And since school assignment is typically determined by area of residence, for those families with limited financial resources, the ability to choose a school that works for their children may be nonexistent.

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Seattle's kids desperately need strong candidates for school board this year. Are you one of them?

Seattle's kids desperately need strong candidates for school board this year. Are you one of them?

Critics of the current school board note that it spends too much time focused on issues that don’t improve student achievement and don’t resolve opportunity gaps. In fact, actions the board has taken in the past have made those gaps worse. And though it made an impressive hire, appointing Denise Juneau as superintendent last summer, it has also hampered her and the professional educators that she leads in addressing these issues.

So, could you do better?

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A Parable on Whiteness (from a Four-Year-Old)

A Parable on Whiteness (from a Four-Year-Old)

One evening, sitting on the floor in our hotel room in Oakland, Zeke started drumming on a plastic cup.

“This song is about a town where everything is white,” he told me after a few minutes. “White, white, white. Everything used to be rainbow colored, but something happened to turn it all white. Now they can’t tell what house is theirs. Everything looks the same.”

Then he sang for a while as he drummed.

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Systemic oppression demands a systemic exodus

Systemic oppression demands a systemic exodus

Our traditional public schools are systemically inequitable — in Seattle, in Washington State, and everywhere else in the United States. Put another way, our schools are consistently producing inequitable outcomes based on race and family income, and it’s a form of systemic oppression.

We know this, most of us. But for most of us, that’s all we do. We know it. It’s mostly an intellectual idea.

So instead of idle knowledge, let’s consider for a moment what that really means — systemic oppression — and what it means for us as human beings.

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Seattle Public Schools unveiled a new strategic plan based on targeted universalism! Will it be enough?

Seattle Public Schools unveiled a new strategic plan based on targeted universalism! Will it be enough?

The opportunity gap, as we all know, is a byproduct of systemic oppression playing out in our schools. The way to upend systemic oppression is to find a way to turn the system on its head. Targeted universalism applies that table-flipping mentality in a constructive way. I’m so surprised and pleased to hear this idea mentioned as our schools’ strategic north star.


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Jesse Hagopian is being displaced at Garfield High School

Jesse Hagopian is being displaced at Garfield High School

Tracy Castro-Gill, the ethnic studies program manager for Seattle Public Schools, posted on Facebook today that “Garfield administration has chosen to displace Jesse Hagopian.”

“Jesse teaches less than half time at Garfield because of his work with Rethinking Schools,” Castro-Gill wrote. “He authored the course description and curriculum for the only board approved ethnic studies course. His leadership in the BLM@SCHOOL movement has strengthened the fight for ethnic studies. And now the district is not willing to pay the 0.4 FTE to continue his work at Garfield.”

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Our kids bear the burden of our patience

Our kids bear the burden of our patience

Time keeps passing. The system keeps on revealing more and more of its flaws, shortcomings and downright bad intentions. We continue to search for solutions, but our kids are carrying the burden of our inability to change.

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Every day at Summit is an experience: Finding myself and fostering independence, by Sumayo Hassan

Every day at Summit is an experience: Finding myself and fostering independence, by Sumayo Hassan

Today’s planet faces many tough challenges. High school has helped me understand that while challenges can be daunting, they can be overcome by hard work and innovation. I’d like to study bioremediation, which is learning how to clean up the environment from toxins that degrade our ecosystem and the organisms that live in them.

One of my most memorable experiences at Summit Sierra was seeing — in real-time — the impact bioremediation can have. We conducted an experiment in science class that demonstrated the process of cleaning up radiation from nuclear fallout where we planted mustard seeds. To see this powerful process in-person reinforced my interest and determination to improve our environment and that it’s possible to work toward a sustainable and more livable planet.

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Black History Today: Reflecting on our collective greatness


“Love is always new. Regardless of whether we love once, twice, or a dozen times in our life, we always face a brand-new situation. Love can consign us to hell or to paradise, but it always takes us somewhere. We simply have to accept it, because it is what nourishes our existence. If we reject it, we die of hunger, because we lack the courage to reach out a hand and pluck the fruit from the branches of the tree of life. We have to take love where we find it, even if it means hours, days, weeks of disappointment and sadness. The moment we begin to seek love, love begins to seek us. And to save us.”-Paulo Coehlo

I firmly believe that God is LOVE, so I want to first give honor to God for hopefully manifesting that agape love through me to others. Secondly, a big shout out to Matt Halverson at RiseupforStudents.org for his belief in all children, his belief in me and allowing me to join his platform to share about the dopeness that I’ve been blessed to encounter. Lastly to my Mom, Dad, my nephsons, young lives in the Batcave, friends, and family, just love, just love!

Now with all the mushy stuff out of the way, LOL, the dope thing about writing these has become that I learn so much more about people that I’ve been able to encounter in this journey we call life. We have so many local heroes/heroines that go in and out of our lives daily, we have to slow down sometimes and just say, I see you and all that you do.

The best part of Black History Today is the moment one of the articles are posted and you get to see all of the likes and comments from other people, sharing their appreciation for folks who don’t always get to hear how much they matter. Conversely tied for the worst part, is these being surprises to those being written about because I feel like I leave so much on the table about them and there only being 28 days in the month!

Writing these teaches me a few things, all things are lessons that God would have us learn. These are a few of the lessons learned:

  1. Writing daily gives me great respect for anyone who writes for a living, as the process of writing is daunting in and of itself, coupled with making sure that to those who don’t know these people their essence is properly conveyed. You never truly know how much you use the word, embody until you’re writing every day, lol.

  2. There are so many Black People, who are doing amazing things, some in synergy and some in silos. The collective impact is astounding, it makes you wonder what could be, even in a city like Seattle (where most of the folks are) if there was an opportunity for collective impact of all these incredible efforts and talents.

  3. People who live lives of service, rarely ever take pictures by themselves. Amongst all of this year's Black History Today showcases, the hardest thing to do was to find a picture of them, alone. That common trend made me realize that being with, being near and loving on others just isn’t what these people do, it is indeed who they are. In a culture of selfie sticks and look at me, they are selfless and look at us.

  4. To steal a quote from a great influence of mine, coach Walter Kramer down in San Antonio, “I am but a shallow reflection of the reflection of life that have shined into mine”. I would often have to take breaks from writing some of these and truly be grateful for the fantastic people that I have been blessed to encounter, whether in Seattle or LA, Atlanta or the Bay, in a world that doesn’t showcase ordinary people doing extraordinary things, it is not lost on me that I am indeed blessed to know them!

I truly am honored to be able to share about these people, please know the original list is much more than I can ever write about, which means there will be 27-30 more folks next year (and years to come) for us to learn about and honor. My hope is though that we don’t wait until February, or birthdays or the holidays to truly celebrate those in our lives that do amazing things.

My greatest lesson came in the same form through three of the features, Mrs. Jones, Justin Cheadle, and Jamal Crawford. Mrs. Jones is in the form of giving people the flowers while they can still smell them because she deserved that and I missed an opportunity to tell her the last time I encountered her, ironically, she teaches me one last lesson I won’t fall short on again.

Jamal, in the form of as the universe having it, me seeing him a couple of weeks after writing his and him saying, “We’ve known each other 20 years, I never knew you looked at me like that” which was striking to me, because I say what I wrote about him to everyone, but I’ve never said it to him, so sometimes we assume people know, even those who write articles to inspire us to share more gratitude, (message!).

Lastly with Justin, who I communicate with about fitness and life almost daily, who I never knew despite his success (Cal, NFL, Dope Father/Husband/Trainer) what the affirmation in the identity in being “Black” let alone “Black History”  meant for and to him, his response moved me emotionally as at times in my life, I’ve felt that same way of not being “black” enough.

It speaks to affirming life into those who are our history, today. I truly thank you all for going on this year's journey with me, I hope you stick around for the bi-weekly blog, support RiseupforStudents.org other content and most importantly, love each other authentically and intentionally.

Each and every one of us is here for a purpose, somebody somewhere sees you! Keep showing up in spaces, keep making history in your office, classroom, kitchen, barbershop and just by being, you! Live today and every day with purpose and on purpose, as we’re all truly, Black History, today!



Black History Today: CJ Dancer & Willie Seals III, two men committed to the excellence in others

This post is part of an ongoing Black History Month series written by Marcus Harden, a truly unsung hero of South Seattle, as he honors the living legacy of Black history in his community and beyond, and recognizes the people who are shaping the future.


My big brother was Big's brother

So here's a few words from your kid brother

If you admire somebody you should go ahead and tell um

People never get the flowers while they could still smell um

A idol in my eyes, God of the game

Heart of the city, Rockafella chain

Never be the same, never be another

Number 1 young Hov also my big brother-Kanye West, Big Brother

Webster's dictionary defines the word Synergy as the benefit that results when two or more agents work together to achieve something either one couldn't have achieved on its own. It's the concept of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

One of the cultural earmarks of the black community has always been its ability to band together in times of strife, yet finding synergy to thrive beyond surviving, is often difficult. That is multiplied when it comes to African American males, many who spend much of their energy surviving the day in the workplace, education space and sometimes just in general.

Synergy, however, isn’t just acquired amongst humans, there is some natural chemistry that happens, yet much like any relationship, it takes trust, work and a belief in oneself, each other and a commitment to something greater than oneself.  CJ Dancer and Willie Seals, epitomize that synergy which radiates into energy that has affected the educational and life outcomes for young people across the state of Washington.

CJ Dancer a native of South East Seattle attended Cleveland High School and then the University of Washington. CJ’s demeanor and personality hide the still waters that truly are an evolutionary force, whether blazing the trail in college, revitalizing social organizations, leading statewide organizations and people of color toward the STEM Fields, leading the City of Seattle in a free college for all campaign or tutoring young men and women at the local goodwill to pass the SAT, CJ has found himself not just committed to but leading a life of service.

Willie Seals III is the definition of authentic servant leadership, a roll your sleeves up throwback, his journey began in the Central District of Seattle, WA. Attending Garfield High School and eventually graduating from Chicago State University, Willie has led a life of light and discovery that has helped shine into others. Whether as a student-athlete in track & field, dawning the infamous red city year jacket and timberlands, affecting policy change with the Puget Sound ESD or setting an example for healthy living, Willie is always moving and evolving forward.

While fulfilled with their individual success, they knew there was more. The casual conversation turned into an intentional conversation which transformed into purposeful action. In 2012 their synergy would turn into the energy that would become their Co-Founding of the Academy for Creating Excellence, an organization whose mission would be to create environments for African American young men to thrive and for African American men to feel a sense of worthiness and dignity, specifically within the educational space.

Now in its seventh year of existence, the vision of these two men has become a reality, serving across six schools in Puget Sound to better societal and educational outcomes for African American young men. However, what is most remarkable about both men, is their commitment to living their teachings. CJ, a proud husband of his supportive and inspiring wife and his two children, making sure that he is everything he had and didn’t have as a child is everything and more he gives to his children. His service to the community never outweighing his first commitment, which is his family.

Not to be outdone, Willie is one of the most committed and proudest fathers you’ll meet. Raising three sons (alongside an awesome mother of their children), Willie serves as coach, friend, confidant, bowling partner and true role model for what he wants his sons to be. Whether at his sons' school, the soccer field, basketball court or spelling bee, Willie is often not only father to his sons but surrogate to those fathers who can’t be present.


These two men model the phrase they often have all of their young men repeat, not just as a mantra but as a statement of fact when they ask the question, “Who Am I?” and require the response, “I am Excellence”. Cj and Willie have utilized their own triumphs and more importantly their triumphs as educators, social servants, sons, brothers, fathers, husbands and as men to create space for young men and other men to stand beside them and seek their own excellence, no ego, no jealousy, just brotherhood and a commitment to excellence.

Cj Dancer and Willie Seals bring the energy of synergy into any environment they enter, they are truly making an impact in the lives of hundreds of young men and their families, they are excellent and they are Black History, today!

To learn more and support CJ and Willie please visit: www.ACEAcademyWA.org