In schools and on the field, equity is an investment in righting wrongs

In schools and on the field, equity is an investment in righting wrongs

By Erin Jones

As a former high-level athlete...

As someone who came to the United States in 1989 with the dream of someday playing for the national soccer team (I was good but never that good)...

As someone who tried out for 2 WNBA teams in 2000 and learned that non-drafted players typically were paid $20-$30,000/year (about the same as what I made as a starting teacher)...

As someone who has known players in both the NFL and NBA...

The issue of pay for female athletes has been on my mind for a long time.

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If July 4 celebrates the American dream, let July 5 remind us to always seek to be better

If July 4 celebrates the American dream, let July 5 remind us to always seek to be better

I didn’t post anything yesterday for a reason...

I was not trying to dampen anyone’s celebration of the 4th or offend anyone on a day that has become set aside as “holy” by some in this nation. However, that being said, independence is not something I celebrate on the 4th.

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Superintendent Reykdal will outline his 'long-term education vision' at a press conference next week

Washington State Superintendent Chris Reykdal announced today that he will discuss his long-term "K-12 education vision and the McCleary funding compromise" at a special press conference next week.

From OSPI's press release:

“The OSPI team and I have been working with and supporting legislators from all four caucuses since I took office,” Reykdal said. “And like everyone else, I’d like the Legislature to come to an agreement and pass a budget before July 1."
"But I also know that this isn’t just about solving a court case. We must ensure our funding is targeted to best support all of the students in our state as they reach for success. And we must also be sure our funding system is sustainable over time.”

 

For the most part, Chris Reykdal has been saying all the right things so far when it comes to equity and McCleary funding, but he still hasn't earned my faith in his ability to follow through. For starters, he's a career politician, which is a path I find hard to trust. Secondly, I don't respect his camp's work during the campaign to quietly try to undermine Jones' credibility as a champion for equity.

I bring this up not out of sour grapes, but to say that Reykdal has lived out the politics I expect from a career politician taking over as superintendent of schools. I expect this to be a stop on his career path, and as such I expect him to be less willing to take risks and to make the potentially unpopular decisions that will lead to true changes in our state's education system.

I hope he proves me wrong.

In fact, as a parent with a son in a struggling elementary school, and in the name of what's right, I challenge you, Chris Reykdal, to be as bold as our kids need you to be in the name of racial and socioeconomic equity in education, regardless of its impact on your career.

We are not in an era where you can straddle the fence. Our state's progressive values are not reflected in our pathetic educational outcomes and segregated schools.

It's you, Chris Reykdal, who's been elected to change that. You will have to risk your popularity and your future electability, but I'm trusting you'll do that because it's what the job demands. I look forward to hearing your plans next week, and to seeing you in your role as the person our most overlooked families are quietly depending on to fight for our kids.

 

  • WHAT:    Press conference with State Superintendent Chris Reykdal
  • WHEN:    Wednesday, May 17, 2017, 10:30 a.m.
    • WHERE:  Brouillet Conference Room, 4th Floor
                     Old Capitol Building (OSPI)
                      600 Washington Street SE, Olympia

RSVP:  Nathan Olson, OSPI Communications Director: 

 

Chris Reykdal feels all the feelings about playgrounds.

Chris Reykdal feels all the feelings about playgrounds.

Has Chris Reykdal already fallen behind as a watchdog for our kids?

We discussed Chris Reykdal, Washington's newly installed State Superintendent of Public Instruction, at great length last year. His opponent in last year's election, Erin Jones, was exceptionally qualified and the first Black woman to run for statewide public office in Washington, and we instead elected Reykdal, a white male career politician.

Now, after less than two months in office, Reykdal is already falling behind.

On Friday the Eatonville Dispatch published an op-ed from Superintendent Reykdal in which he vaguely pledged to "fight for supporters of public education."

He started by highlighting Congress' effort to repeal the regulations on school accountability (emphasis is mine):

On Feb. 9, Betsy DeVos was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as our nation’s 11th secretary of education. A few hours after the confirmation, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to repeal certain rules for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
The rules clarify how ESSA will be implemented in regard to teacher preparation programs and how schools and districts measure success.
The Senate must now vote on the repeal. If the Senate votes in favor of the repeal, the DeVos administration will write its own rules. 

I don't expect most parents to track all the policy developments happening in our nation's capitol, but I do expect the state superintendent to keep up. The U.S. Senate voted to repeal the regulations on March 9, more than a week before this op-ed posted. 

Here's a screenshot just in case they figure it out before something posts and take it down.

 

Reykdal got one thing right: the Betsy DeVos puppeteers will write their own rules if left unchecked, and we can count on those rules to be oppressive in ways both familiar and newly alarming.

Let's hope this is Reykdal's wake-up call, and maybe a reminder that he's the one, as our elected champion for students, who's supposed to be on top of these things.

Signs of Hope in South Seattle

I wrote earlier this month about the many different positive messages people have posted in their yards in my neighborhood, and how there's some power in these quiet, steady displays of love.

I accidentally drove down a side street off McClellan a couple days ago and saw the same style of Black Lives Matter sign in almost every yard. By the end of the block, I was choked up. Granted, I'm pretty easily weepy these days, but still, it made me wonder: what if the whole city looked like that? I bet that's what a sanctuary city would really look like.

Catching up after a busy month

I'm home.

A lot, it turns out, happened while I was gone. And having spent most of the past month with little cell service and lots of things demanding my attention, I'm still getting caught up.

For starters, Donald Trump was elected president. That seems bad.

Trump has also nominated Betsy DeVos to be our new Secretary of Education. She supports charter schools, which seems good at first, until you find out she's obsessed with them in a bizarre, fairly extreme way. She also wants to "Make Education Great Again," which requires no dissection to be rendered obviously ridiculous (though I do look forward to dissecting it soon anyway).

But the point is, Trump and DeVos will be making decisions very soon that have very real implications for our kids. What will we do?

In Washington State, meanwhile, we showed our own backwater stripes and failed to elect Erin Jones to be our new state superintendent of public instruction. Instead, we shout hooray for Chris Reykdal, a white male career politician! He's the change we've been looking for, no doubt.

The frivolous challenge to Washington State's charter school law was dismissed, and the same law has since been called the strongest in the nation, so our locale hasn't been completely bereft of positive developments. Our budget crisis remains, however, and the broken systems that created the inequity are still the ones trying to fix it. We are still scales on a snake trying to eat its own tail.

Luckily, there's reason for hope. Our kids are beautiful geniuses, and we (their parents and their community) recognize this and love them all the more for it. They will not be denied the education they deserve. We won't stand for it.

Chris Reykdal: Misrepresenting Himself, Misrepresenting Erin Jones

Chris Reykdal: Misrepresenting Himself, Misrepresenting Erin Jones

Chris Reykdal, a privileged white man, just compared Erin Jones, a black woman vying to become the state’s first elected black leader at the state level, to Donald Trump.

There are some Donald Trump tactics being used here, only it’s Chris Reykdal, not Erin Jones, who is gutter diving.

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The Stranger's overwhelmingly white 'election control board' no longer supports Erin Jones for OSPI

The Stranger's overwhelmingly white 'election control board' no longer supports Erin Jones for OSPI

The Stranger’s overwhelmingly white “Election Control Board” has rescinded the paper’s endorsement of Erin Jones for state superintendent of public instruction.

Jones is the first African-American woman to run for statewide public office in Washington. The Stranger is now backing her opponent, Chris Reykdal, a white man from Tumwater who has most recently been serving in the state legislature.

Staff writer Sydney Brownstone seems to have spearheaded the campaign against Jones.

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An Open Letter from Erin Jones

An Open Letter From Erin Jones:

Yesterday I was left saddened and in disbelief after reading the Stranger’s portrayal of my positions on the changing landscape of LGBTQ youth education and attempt to undermine 25 years of hands-on commitment to fighting for openness, acceptance and success for EVERY child. I have been a longstanding, strong supporter of LGBTQ children and adults and their rights to be treated equally, respectfully and lovingly in their schools and communities.

My track record is something my opponent—or writers at the Stranger, who did not bother to interview any of the many LGBTQ leaders or former students I have worked with— cannot take away.  Ultimately voters will make the call on whether a career educator, who has worked with some of Washington’s most vulnerable populations, should be rejected for what amounts to language that does not reflect my values or lifestyle.

I want to be clear that I recognize and regret using overly equivocal wording on issues related to the LGBTQ community.  I recognize that I have let friends and supporters down in my word choice. I know that in issues of race and sexual orientation, words do matter.  I used words that I have employed to persuade individuals who do not share our progressive values, but they were wrong in this context.  I assure you that my values have never wavered in my support of the LGBTQ community.

As an educator, I believe one never stops being a student. In the months since friends and supporters first raised the issue of my perspective on trans education in elementary schools, I have spent hours on the phone talking with friends who are members of the LGBTQ community, allies, experts on sexual health, parents of LGBTQ youth and LGBTQ youth themselves. I have intentionally sat in spaces to learn and gain better understandings that will help me best serve our students and our communities.

Over the course of the campaign I have been asked if I think being LGBTQ is a choice or a sin. I do NOT believe being LGBTQ is a choice, nor do I believe that being LGBTQ is a sin! However, my job as the state education leaders is not to take a stand on my religious beliefs but to ensure schools are prepared to be absolutely inclusive and embrace each and every young person and their families. To that end, I fully support a comprehensive sexual education curriculum that includes issues of gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation. Even our youngest of children are experiencing bullying for gender expression that does not match their gender identity, from boys being bullied for having long hair to girls being harassed for not wanting to play with dolls or participate in tea parties. However, I do believe that our teachers must be effectively trained on how to teach the material to students at all levels. Our students deserve to receive the most accurate, compassionate and open-hearted curriculum.  I believe this office has a responsibility to work with teachers and advocates to provide the resources and training necessary to support students across Washington.

My personal and professional life experiences and actions with the LGBTQ community are a mirror into who I am, and have always been. As a teacher, I worked to ensure that all my students felt safe and knew they were accepted and loved for who they were, regardless of their socioeconomic status, religious beliefs, gender identity, expression or sexual orientation. One example of my advocacy was my willingness to take on an additional course on diversity as an instructional coach at the high school. The school needed someone to step in when a teacher had to take a leave of absence, and I had the gift of participating in learning alongside my students. A significant portion of this course addressed developing inclusive practices for the LGBTQ community. In fact, we also created the first Mix-it-Up Day with the express purpose of helping students embrace the ethnic, linguistic and sexual diversity around them. As a mother, I have two biological children, an adopted daughter who is biologically my niece, and two socially-adopted children who were ostracized by their families after “coming out.” These young people are not biologically mine, yet I have embraced them and they adopted me as their surrogate mother, because I accept and love them for who they are. The thought of rejecting a child for being his/her/their authentic self makes my heart sick.

As a Black Woman, who holds the honor of being first to run for statewide office in Washington, I know too well what it means to be systematically and socially marginalized. My experience of being both Black and Woman is the foundation of my passion for equality and equity of all people and at every level of society. To suggest otherwise is a clear misrepresentation of my character, the history of my actions in my personal and professional lives, and is shortsighted and hurtful in nature.

I am running for OSPI precisely because of my combined personal and professional experiences. These experiences have led me to serve for over 20 years in K-12 environments with some of the highest need, highest poverty, and most ethnically, culturally, and sexually diverse communities in our state. I am proud of my work and support for the rights of all people—and all children—regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender identity or economic status. I have been a champion for children and will bring to the table a comprehensive plan to address our need for full funding, our need to address standardized testing, our need to eliminate opportunity gaps, our need to improve teacher retention, and our need to ensure that our schools are safe spaces for every child and their families. For over twenty years I have worked to make sure each and every child is valued, that every school environment is inclusive, and that every student is supported to be able to become his/her/their best selves.

Superintendent of Public Instruction is not simply another political office to occupy. It is the office that has the responsibility to invest in our children and empower them to be the next leaders of our world. I am the champion for our state's students and will work to ensure that each child gets a quality education regardless of age, race, zip code, orientation, expression, or identity.

Sincerely,

 

Erin Jones

Candidate Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction

Erin Jones leads primary voting for state superintendent

Today is the final day to vote in Washington's primary, and according to Paige Cornwell of the Seattle TimesErin Jones sits atop the field of nine candidates for state superintendent of schools with 24 percent of the vote.

That is great news for our students and our schools, and it puts a crack in one of our remaining shameful glass ceilings. Jones would be the first black woman to hold statewide elected office in Washington.

With 20 percent of the vote, state Rep. Chris Reykdal will likely join Jones on the November ballot. Reykdal has been an outspoken opponent of charter schools, but he said last month he would support charters as part of the public school system if they are upheld as constitutional by the state Supreme Court.

Ron Higgins, amazingly, is currently third at 17 percent -- the same Higgins who has said he wants to "stop sexualizing education" and would do away with gender-neutral bathrooms.

Jones and Reykdal have seemed to be the frontrunners for some time now, so this preliminary news comes as no real surprise, though I find it interesting that the majority of voters chose one of the other seven candidates. (More on them here.)

Hopefully enough of those soon-to-be-disenfranchised voters will swing Jones' way. My concern now is that it's hard to imagine someone voting for Higgins, say, in the primary, and then for Jones over Reykdal. We'll see.

 

Who's running for state superintendent in Washington?

I went to the OSPI Candidate Forum on Tuesday and got an up-close look at how important this superintendent’s race is for our kids.

If you read nothing else, read this: Erin Jones is the clear choice to be Washington’s next state superintendent. She is the first black woman to run for statewide office in Washington, and she has been a lifelong advocate for racial equity. She has been a classroom teacher and a school administrator, and she’s worked for OSPI. She is a champion for students.

I have written about her in the past as well, but I want to be explicit and call on everyone who considers themselves equity-minded to vote for Erin Jones in this election. Focus on your common ground. She represents the bold change and unwavering equity lens that has been missing in our public school system. She needs your support now because our kids need her leadership.

Okay, you can stop reading if you want. Though I will say, Tuesday’s OSPI Candidate Forum was a pretty fascinating event. Extremely intimate.

I was impressed from the beginning by Erin Okuno’s introduction of the whole thing. Before ever mentioning a candidate’s name, she urged everyone in the room to use this chance to talk about race and inequity and to maintain that focus. It set a powerful tone.

Then we sat in groups of roughly 10 and talked with each of six state superintendent candidates for a full 15 minutes apiece. One right after another. It was surprisingly excruciating at times, but it was deeply insightful as well.

As far as I can tell, Chris Reykdal is the only other remotely reasonable candidate of the six. He demonstrated some understanding of the opportunity and achievement gaps, a willingness to talk about racial inequity, and a plan to convince privileged white folks that it’s actually in their (our) best interest financially to close those gaps. He has been an outspoken opponent of charter schools over the past year, but he said Tuesday that he would support charters if the Supreme Court and the legislature uphold them as constitutional. He wouldn’t be an offensive choice for superintendent, but he’s not an inspiring choice either.

Ron Higgins wore an American flag tie and showed us the copy of the U.S. Constitution he carries in his breast pocket. One of his ideas for funding schools was to de-modernize and stop wasting money on expensive new technology that the kids only use to watch obscene music videos and sports and play video games on anyway. (He said that.) He also said he would immediately do away with any gender-neutral bathrooms.

“There’s X and Y,” he said. “That’s it.”

He used the term “inner-city” at least 10 times.

David Spring really wants to be a state rep, not the superintendent. He’s a former teacher, and he’s run for the state legislature multiple times in the past but never won. His main talking point was about corporate tax breaks, and his interest in the superintendent’s seat comes off as political. He just seems to be pursuing a very specific agenda in a very energetic way, and he pins all his hopes for improving student outcomes on reducing class sizes.

The list below comes from his brochure. I’ll highlight #9 as especially problematic, but you’ll want to read them all. It really gets good around #7 and definitely ends with a shot at the moon. Remember, he’s running for superintendent of public schools.

Woof.

Woof.

 

Robin Fleming said in her introduction that she had been fighting the opportunity gap throughout her career as a school nurse, educator and administrator. She talked repeatedly about the importance of allocating resources equitably, but she didn’t strike me as someone who would actually know how to do that. She spoke out against standardized testing, did some subtle family-blaming, and revealed some low-expectation bias when talking about students of color. She wants to avoid judging teachers based on student progress and would have individual teachers to be the sole evaluators of their own students — largely anecdotally, it seems. This would be a complete disaster for all students, to be sure, but especially students of color. She also talked in closing about her opposition to charter schools, and then said as she left the table, “I actually taught in one last year.” This does not seem to be true unless it was in another state, and it was pretty strange.

Al Runte is not particularly distinguishable from Higgins, though he’s less cartoonish in his embellishments. Like Higgins, he advocates for something vague about getting back to basics, and he also has an outdated, bigoted view of gender identity, and honestly, by the time he came around, I’d been trying not to react to the mostly depressing things I was hearing from the mostly depressing field of candidates for a full hour already, and I gave myself a break and let my mind wander during this one.

Erin Jones is the clear choice here. If that wasn’t clear before, it’s excruciatingly vivid now. Reykdal is the only other candidate who could do the job, and that’s a low bar. Erin Jones represents a chance for real change in a state whose status quo desperately needs to be shaken. She has earned my vote.

Be a voice for equity at the OSPI Candidate Forum in Seattle

Five candidates for Washington State Superintendent -- Robin Fleming, Ron Higgins, Erin Jones, Chris Reykdal and David Spring -- will come together to discuss their positions and plans for our schools this month.

Hosted by Southeast Seattle Education Coalition (SESEC), Equity in Education Coalition (EEC), Coalition of Immigrants, Refugees and Communities of Color (CIRCC), and League of Education Voters (LEV), "this is your chance to hear from candidates about what they hope to accomplish, what their strategies are to close the opportunity gap, and to share with them what you hope they will focus on if elected."

I believe our students need Erin Jones to be the next state superintendent in Washington. She doesn't have the endorsement of the WEA, which at this point I take to be a good sign.

She does, however, have an unblemished track record of putting students and families first, and she has maintained that focus even during her campaign. She will be a powerful voice for equity and a real agent of change in our school system. She needs support.

No matter which specific candidate ultimately receives your vote, we need to ask hard questions and to make it clear to each potential superintendent that it takes a demonstrated investment in equity to earn this vote in Washington.

 

 

OSPI Candidate Forum

Tuesday, July 19 from 5:15-7:15 p.m. (doors open at 5:00 p.m.)

at the New Holly Gathering Hall (7054 32nd Ave S, Seattle).

Advance registration is required, so check out the flyer and register here.

Q&A with State Superintendent Candidate Erin Jones

Erin Jones has spent her career working for equity in education, and her track record as an educator and as an advocate for all students has few peers in our state.

Erin was selected as a Milken Educator of the Year for Washington state in 2007, as one of 10 White House Champions of Change for Educational Excellence for African Americans in 2013 for her work promoting educational excellence for African-Americans in the community, and in 2015 as the Washington state PTA Educator of the Year.

In three years as the Assistant Superintendent of Student Achievement in the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), her work centered around developing policy recommendations and promoting instructional best practices for diverse student groups.

Erin is now running to be our next state superintendent, and I had a chance to ask her a few questions about her campaign and her vision for our schools.

 

Matt Halvorson: Hi Erin! Thanks for sharing a few minutes from your busy schedule with us.

First off, what motivates you? What drives your desire to work in education?

Erin Jones: I came to the US after being raised in the Netherlands with an expectation that I would get a law degree and return to the Netherlands to work as an international lawyer. After one year in the US, I became very aware that students who looked like me were not getting the same kind of education I had received in Europe. After my second year in the US, I knew I couldn't go home. I realized race, zip code and home language were the greatest predictors of the kind of school experience kids would get, and I wanted to be part of changing that.

After serving as a classroom teacher for 12 years and an administrator for 8, the desire to better serve all kids hasn't changed. I know this is the work I am called to for a lifetime. This is the greatest civil rights issue the 21st century!

 

Matt: What has it been like to transition from working in schools and administration to navigating the world of politics?

Erin: I absolutely must stay connected to schools in order to do the politics. The children and the teachers are in the reason I am running for election. In my opinion, when one becomes removed from school building and disconnected from the real work, one can no longer represent the people. We see evidence of this every day in the kinds of decisions legislators and other leaders make on behalf of people they don't know.

I am also still working as an administrator as I run for office... I will be resigning, however, at the end of my contract in June.

 

Matt: In what ways would you say the politics in our state and the political process for this role are contributing to the educational inequities in our state?

Erin: There are many ways the politics and political processes contribute to inequity in public service, whether that relates to healthcare, housing or education. There are many unspoken rules in the political process. There are ways that political insiders and those with money have an advantage - because they can take off work or not work at all, because they're connected to money and can get big donations. The challenge with political insiders and wealthy people getting elected over and over is that they cannot represent the voices of the most marginalized, so inequity is perpetuated. This is exactly how the Legislature could decide on opening day this year not to make a dent in McCleary. When the lack of funding doesn't impact your children, it's easy to push that decision off... so inequity continues.

 

Matt: Washington is one of a handful of states with a growing opportunity gap between students of color and white students, and between low-income students and their more affluent peers. In your opinion, what is contributing to those gaps in our state specifically?

Erin: 1. Inequity in funding and support. Who gets access to arts programming and electives? Who gets to take Advanced Placement or College in the High School classes? Who is able to benefit from Running Start? These things contribute to inequities in public education. Our poorest schools continue to struggle to pass levies and bonds, which means schools cannot be fixed and poor rural districts don't have the same ability to purchase FTE or access wi-fi.

2. Bias and prejudice. We all have it, but in the Northwest, we don't want to admit our issues with "others." Unfortunately, we have all been exposed to negative media and a culture that undervalues people of color, which shows up in our expectations for students and how they are provided (or not provided) with opportunities. We need to be willing to unpack our biases and the ways we have been trained to think about ourselves and others in order to better serve all students.

3. Lack of training and support. 20 years ago, our state was primarily white. Our teachers were trained to serve middle class white children. Now, suddenly, with an influx of students of color and recent immigrants, staff need to know how to more effectively communicate with and instruct a new demographic. It means we must begin to prepare students differently for the classroom. It means all teachers must know how to instruct students who don't show up in school with academic English.

 

Matt: What bold actions will you take for equity? What bold actions will you take for families?

Erin: Bold actions: I'm the first black woman to run for statewide office. That in itself is a bold move. I am aware of the power of modeling and the change I can create by rewriting the narrative about the potential of students of color or those "othered" for whatever reason.

I have a 4-step plan for addressing equity in our state:

  1. Recruit, hire, train and support staff to increase the number of educators of color in schools, AND better prepare support white teachers to serve students of color and students who enter classrooms without fluency in English.

  2. Create a model for authentic family and community engagement that recognizes the value of parent as first teacher and the need for schools to partner with community organizations to provide needed non-academic resources necessary to serve the Whole Child. Families are CRITICAL to the success of students, but we must listen and engage families in meaningful ways. OSPI used to have a family engagement office - CISL. That office must be reinstated. We find and promote what we believe has value. When there is no one at OSPI dedicated to family/community engagement, that sends a clear message.

  3. Address the needs of the Whole Child - the academic, social-emotional, physical and cultural needs of our children.

  4. Create a smooth pathway/pipeline for students to move from early childhood to post-high school. This pathway should help students and families navigate public education, help students connect early to their passions and then create a roadmap to ensure students develop the skills and have the experiences they need to be able to pursue their passions beyond high school (whether that requires 2/4-year college, tech school, apprenticeships, military).

Learn more about Erin Jones and her campaign at www.erinjones2016.org.
Follow her on Twitter: @Jones4WA.