Chris Reykdal wants to engage ‘our diverse community,’ so he scheduled a webinar

You’ve probably heard this story before. A folksy, man-of-the-people politician has a decision to make, and he needs to know what his constituents think about the matter. He needs to tap into the wisdom of the people so that his policies can “reflect the needs of our diverse community.”

So, the politician (in this case, let’s call him Washington Superintendent Chris Reykdal) rolls up his sleeves and meets the people where they’re at, right? He needs to hear from us -- the people! -- so Reykdal reaches out and connects with us on our terms, not his. He listens without making assumptions.

He… schedules a series of informational webinars!

Gosh, Chris. As always, you really get me.

With Washington’s ESSA accountability plan due to the feds in September, Reykdal’s office has scheduled four webinars in August to share details, recent revisions, and ways to give feedback on the plan. I’ve already had to drink an extra cup of coffee just thinking about trying to stay awake through it.

But seriously, this is all real. That line about “reflecting the needs of our diverse community” is taken right from Reykdal’s recent press release announcing these webinars. The stated goal is to get some feedback from people like me and you on our state’s new education plan -- a federal requirement.

If Reykdal is actually listening, here’s what I want him to hear about me and my community:

If you’re not willing to turn things on their head, you can’t solve our problems. The opportunity gap didn’t just arise a few years ago. People of color have always been oppressed in this country, and that has always played out in our education system as well. If you think a few tweaks are all it will take to set our schools on a different path, we disagree. We need you to be bold, or else to sleep at night knowing that your time in this office is coming at the expense of our kids.

OSPI (the state superintendent’s office) will officially release the revised plan on Aug. 7, opening up a 30-day public comment period. They will ask for comment and approval from Gov. Jay Inslee, the state legislature and the state board of education at that time as well. All this feedback will be compiled for Reykdal to review before submission, who promises in the press release to “use our new flexibility to support all students and address gaps for students that have been historically underserved by our education system.”

Nice. But as always, they don’t tell us how they’re going to do it. They just tell us how they’re going to pay for it. So, Washington’s plan describes methods of financial support for struggling students and schools, but it does not outline significant practical changes that can be expected to actually help close our state’s opportunity gap, which is one of the worst in the nation.

That’s going to take bold, drastic, at-times-unpopular changes. Real, concrete changes involving new policies, expectations and repercussions. Instead, we’re getting a lot of people sincerely agreeing that we should close the opportunity gap, then shaking hands and moving on with business as usual.

Reykdal shared his vision for our schools earlier this month, and it was similarly vague when it comes to equity, acknowledging our gaps and our systemic discrimination without offering tangible solutions.

For what it’s worth, just about every state seems to be struggling with this same issue. Still, I question just how effectively Reykdal’s office is truly engaging stakeholders, because that’s where these answers can be found. A group of Seattle educators and NAACP members, for example, offered a “concrete plan to close intolerable opportunity gaps” in Seattle Public Schools just a couple days ago. The Campaign for Student Success has authored a detailed plan for equitable school funding in the state. Organic, community-based ideas and leadership are not in short supply. They’re just not always recognized.

The 30-day comment period that will open up in August is our last chance to impact the plan that will guide our schools into the next decade.

Registration information for the four webinars:

• Tuesday, August 15, 4–6 p.m. (register)

• Saturday, August 19, 11 a.m.–1 p.m. (register)

• Wednesday, August 23, 5–7 p.m. (register)

• Wednesday, August 30, 6–8 p.m. (register)





Campaign for Student Success launched today to urge an equitable McCleary fix

A coalition of Washingtonians are banding together to ensure that the solution to McCleary is a solution for all students, including those our state typically overlooks.

Launched today, the Campaign for Student Success (CSS) invites all Washingtonians to participate in sharing their vision for an education system that prepares every child to be career- and college-ready. The coalition has pledged to collaborate with Washington legislators and Governor Jay Inslee to ensure that this vision becomes a reality.

So far, the growing list of member organizations includes the Equity in Education Coalition, Washington Roundtable, League of Education Voters, Stand for Children Washington, Statewide Poverty Action Network, Treehouse, School’s Out Washington, Thrive Washington and the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition.

Sharonne Navas, co-founder and executive director of the Equity in Education Coalition, addresses the crowd at today's Campaign for Student Success launch event.

From the CSS press release:

“In McCleary, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that because the state government is not providing sufficient education funding, it is violating the state’s constitution. Further, the Court found that inadequate funding from the state is leading to inequalities and disparities between wealthy and poor school districts. McCleary is a unique opportunity to reimagine – and bring fairness to – Washington’s public education system.”

That’s a promising start. I completely agree that we need to use McCleary as an opportunity to forge a bold new beginning for our public schools.

“We cannot afford to miss the opportunity presented to us by McCleary,” said Sharonne Navas, co-founder and executive director of the Equity in Education Coalition, at today's CSS launch event. “The choice is simple—will we meet the constitutional obligation by dumping money into an unfair system, or take the time to reimagine and reshape our education system into one that puts the needs and assets of children first and works for each and every child in our state? Our coalition has come together to fix a system that is inherently unfair by ensuring that every kid has access to equal opportunity. And it’s not just about the kids. The economy of our state and our way of life depend on a well-educated and diverse workforce.”

The Campaign for Student Success will function according to three key policy pillars: 

  • Funding & Fairness: “Sufficient funding must also be equitable and fair, meaning we must support those students who need it most;”
  • Talent: “Educator compensation must be funded with a focus on equity, growing the pipeline of excellent educators and matching them with students who need the most help;”
  • Accountability: “Funding and talent must be accompanied by a robust accountability system that sets clear goals, tracks progress over time, and provides appropriate supports and programs for under-performing schools and struggling students.”

“The Campaign for Student Success is giving voice to every parent in Washington,” said Regina Elmi, a mother in the Renton School District. “As a parent, I’m thrilled to be asked to be a central part of the conversation because my two daughters are counting on our legislators to get it right. As parents, we need to make sure our voices are heard in Olympia.”

I see so much to love about this campaign. I trust the leadership and the intention. Let’s hope they get the help they need to make equitable education funding a reality in our state.