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An outdated update on the Seattle School Board science curriculum debacle

An outdated update on the Seattle School Board science curriculum debacle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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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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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.

But…

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My alma mater hired 15 people recently, and all 15 were white. What gives?

My alma mater hired 15 people recently, and all 15 were white. What gives?

I got the latest issue of The Augustana Magazine in my mailbox this week. It’s the alumni magazine from my alma mater. I flipped through it today, paused and read about the Augustana baseball team’s national title, and was about to recycle it until the page listing new faculty hires and promotions caught my eye.

Take a look at it. What do you notice? What do all of these folks seem to have in common?

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I'm pleasantly surprised to find myself optimistic that Seattle Public Schools are headed in the right direction

I'm pleasantly surprised to find myself optimistic that Seattle Public Schools are headed in the right direction

I ask humbly for your help. What else is happening that I should know about in our schools? Can you give me more reason to be hopeful, more stories about the progress our district is making? Can you tell me more about the teachers meeting with inmates, or about something that gives you hope for the future?

And if not that, are there more areas we need to shine a light on? What else is happening that also needs to change?

Thank you for your thoughts and your optimism as we look ahead, and thank you for doing what you do in important times like these. It’s going to be a good year.

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Do charter school opponents really think our public school system is distributing resources equitably? Come on now.

Do charter school opponents really think our public school system is distributing resources equitably? Come on now.

The implication from charter school opponents is that our traditional public school system is the model for how money should be distributed. Charter schools are diverting public funds, they say, using them to serve only “some” students when this public money is intended for all students.

But isn’t that the definition of an opportunity gap? Aren’t our public schools already taking money intended for all students and distributing it inequitably?

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Starbucks closed its stores today to renew its commitment to... Third Place? Huh. What's that?

Starbucks closed its stores today to renew its commitment to... Third Place? Huh. What's that?

I’m sure you know by now that two Black men were arrested after a Starbucks employee called them in for being Black a few weeks back.

Every Starbucks closed today in response to that incident, and every Starbucks employee in universes both known and otherwise attended a racial bias training this afternoon.

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Let's get to know Washington's charter school movement at this weekend's annual conference

The Washington State Charters Schools Association Conference is this weekend, which means we get to take a look behind the curtain of the charter school movement in Washington. What are they thinking about? What are they talking about? What are their priorities and their blind spots?

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Our New Superintendent Is the Change We Need, But Frankly Not as Much Change as I Want

Our New Superintendent Is the Change We Need, But Frankly Not as Much Change as I Want

It doesn’t feel like we’ve found a savior. We’ve got Wedge Antilles here, not Luke Skywalker. Wedge is nice, but he’s just one good pilot, you know? He’s a quiet leader, an accomplished rebel, but we need to blow up the Death Star, and we all know he’s not going to be the one to do that.

With Juneau, it feels similar, like we’ve found a good, highly qualified public school superintendent who will be committed to doing more than just paying lip service to the need for equity. She's all in. That much is crystal clear within a few minutes with her. But because she doesn’t have a fully revolutionary track record, I don’t believe she will make a difference in time for my kids. I don’t think she’s going to move to Seattle and blow up the Death Star.

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A few quick thoughts about Seattle’s superintendent candidates after last night’s public forum

A few quick thoughts about Seattle’s superintendent candidates after last night’s public forum

We met the three finalists chosen by the school board — Jeanice Swift, Denise Juneau and Andre Spencer, in that order — and each candidate spoke with Keisha Scarlett of SPS for 45 minutes in a question-and-answer format.

Here are my brief-as-I-can-be thoughts about the three people we’re choosing between to lead Seattle’s schools.

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Seattle Public Schools have announced three finalists for Superintendent. Who will you choose?

Seattle Public Schools have announced three finalists for Superintendent. Who will you choose?

People say the superintendent has limited power or limited impact, but in Seattle, strength in this position is our greatest hope for the kind of transformational change our kids deserve.

We need a strong superintendent in Seattle because we need someone who will commit to and force an unpopular agenda through, if necessary — even in the face of pushback.

Desegregation was quite unpopular among white parents back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Seattle today is just brimming with white parents — we are one of the whitest major cities in the nation, in fact. Equity efforts will be unpopular here and now, too. We have to expect that and prepare to rise above it.

Real change is hard and uncomfortable, and yet it’s what we need. So, we need a leader who will press on through through that difficulty and discomfort — even through outright disapproval and unpopularity — to do what needs to be done. We need that strength from our leader because we can’t rely on the general population of Seattle to have the vision to demand and make such changes right now.

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Seattle Public Schools has invited us all to a Superintendent Search Public Forum on March 29. Let's go.

Seattle Public Schools has invited us all to a Superintendent Search Public Forum on March 29. Let's go.

Seattle Public Schools is searching at breakneck speed for a new superintendent. The district sent out an email to its list of parents and families inviting us all to a public forum at the end of the month to meet the three finalists for the supe job.

This is important. We can submit questions ahead of time by emailing them to boardoffice@seattleschools.org. Please feel free to copy me (matt.a.halvorson@gmail.com)! I'd love to know what questions we're asking.

Let's make sure it's impossible for these candidates to be confused about the fact that equity is our singular top priority. We need to force these potential district leaders to demonstrate whether or not they know what's at stake, and we need to find out for ourselves if any of the three people the Seattle School Board introduces us to will be willing and able to take the kind of radical, bold action that could lead to unprecedented educational equity.

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Do we have any reason to believe the Seattle School Board has the skills needed to choose a superintendent who can close our opportunity gaps?

Do we have any reason to believe the Seattle School Board has the skills needed to choose a superintendent who can close our opportunity gaps?

The Seattle School Board is in the beginning stages of finding a new superintendent to lead Seattle Public Schools. Also, they're apparently near the finish line.

Despite the fact that the application materials still aren’t available online, Ray and Associates, the firm chosen to conduct the search, still lists Feb. 28 as the deadline to apply. The board, meanwhile, after opening their ears to a brief moment of community input, has apparently decided to stay the course and still plans to hire the new superintendent before the end of March.

That doesn't give us much time.

First off, here's what the board says they're looking for in a candidate...

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Seattle needs a superintendent in the Bob Ferguson mold — someone who knows right from wrong and won't take any shit

Seattle needs a superintendent in the Bob Ferguson mold — someone who knows right from wrong and won't take any shit

By the time we reached the first floor and the elevator doors slid open, I was pretty sure I was standing next to Bob Ferguson, Washington State's attorney general. So, I asked him.

"Excuse me," I said. "Are you Bob Ferguson?"

"Yes, I am," he said.

Okay. Mystery solved. I told him my name and shook his hand.

What now?

"Thanks for doing what you're doing," I said. "You've made me feel proud to live in Seattle."

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Guest Post: I Was a Racist Teacher and I Didn’t Even Know It

Guest Post: I Was a Racist Teacher and I Didn’t Even Know It

"I was a racist teacher and I didn’t recognize it.

At the time that I taught, I would have argued that I was the opposite. I was a progressive, a Democrat. I campaigned in my progressive town in Western North Carolina for the first Black man to run for the U.S. Senate against a notorious racist from our state, Jesse Helms. I voted for Obama, even volunteered in his office during the 2008 campaign."

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Take a look at the Seattle Superintendent's 'equity analysis' of school calendar changes and tell me what you think

Seattle Public Schools are making changes to the school calendar again this year. They are proposing to extend the school day by 20 minutes, change the daily start and end times, and turn Wednesday into a weekly early-dismissal day, among other things.

The Seattle School Board will vote on this issue next week based on this School Board Action Report submitted by district superintendent Larry Nyland on April 20. In addition to many other things, Nyland's report includes the following on equity:

7. EQUITY ANALYSIS
This calendar incorporates additional student early release time that allows for more teacher collaboration time to address school improvement plans and work on ending opportunity gaps.

That’s it. To me, this sounds like a pretty halfhearted “analysis.”

So, I did a little digging and found that Seattle Public Schools are supposed to conduct an equity analysis in a case like this.

Back in 2012, the district adopted “Board Policy No. 0030: Ensuring Educational and Racial Equity.” It states that SPS is “focused on closing the opportunity gap,” and it lists certain things the district has to do differently, including:

Equitable Access—The district shall provide every student with equitable access to a high quality curriculum, support, facilities and other educational resources, even when this means differentiating resource allocation;
B. Racial Equity Analysis—The district shall review existing policies, programs, professional development and procedures to ensure the promotion of racial equity, and all applicable new policies, programs and procedures will be developed using a racial equity analysis tool;

(For what it's worth, here is the district’s official “Racial Equity Analysis Tool.”)

What happened here? If Nyland didn’t do any analysis at all, that’s problematic. If he did do a thorough analysis, and he is truly satisfied with “more teacher collaboration time” as a solution to the opportunity gap, that’s problematic, too. And it kind of misses the point of the equity analysis. Will this impact certain students, families or communities more than others? Will this perpetuate inequity?

I don't know whether the new school calendar Nyland is proposing will be equitable or not. This is the kind of thing that can quietly have disproportionate impact on certain groups, however, and we can’t be sure we’re implementing equitable procedures unless we do our due diligence. 

Paying lip service to racial inequity and then failing to follow through on the hard work of dismantling structural barriers to equity is exactly what has perpetuated our opportunity gap all this time. It needs to stop. Until our school leaders start making different decisions based on new information and diverse perspectives, nothing will change in our schools.

It’s been five years now under this new policy. Has the district followed through on its promise to review all the policies, programs, professional development opportunities and district procedures that have led to this inequity? If so, who completed the analyses, and what did they find?

If it hasn’t been done at all… well, why not?

And I have the same questions for Larry Nyland about his equity analysis for the proposed calendar changes. Did you follow through on your district’s promise to develop this new policy using a racial equity analysis tool? If so, you might need a sharper tool.

Or if it wasn’t done at all… well, why not?

Finally, Hope for Equity at Highly Exclusive Public School

By Chris Eide

What if I told you that there is a public school in the Seattle area, funded by public dollars and overseen by an elected school board that rigorously screens applicants, is as well-appointed as any private school you are likely to find, and is so sought after that young people move from overseas just to have the chance to attend?

Would you expect the anti-charter, McCleary-first crowd to vehemently oppose this school’s very existence?

Well, they don’t. It never even gets mentioned in those types of conversations.

What if I also told you that the school’s population is not representative of the people who live in the area? Would you be surprised that this school has about three times the percentage of white students as the school district it calls home? Or that there are three times fewer black students, four times fewer Latino students, six times fewer students from low-income families, and seven times fewer students with special needs?

These are private school numbers driven by private school selection processes, and yet Raisbeck Aviation High School in the Highline School District has been consistently lauded by (predominantly white) legislators and school board members since its inception — lauded by many of the very people who have objected to charter schools, which hope to serve primarily high-needs students and seek to make their application process as sparse as administratively possible.

Aviation High School has long stood as evidence of how privilege influences public school politics.

Now, however, under the bold leadership that typifies Highline Superintendent Susan Enfield’s work, the school is moving toward a more equitable student selection model, using a lottery to choose its students instead of the highly exclusive process it had been using. From the Seattle Times:

“Though some students and parents have raised concerns about the new system, one thing is certain: The 105 students in next year’s freshman class will better reflect the population the school serves. In the Highline School District as a whole, nearly half the students are female, and three-quarters are racial minorities.
‘Being a public school system, you have to have an equitable and defensible system,’ Superintendent Susan Enfield said. ‘Because we have more students each year than we have seats for, the [school] board and I have to be able to look any parent and student in the eye and say, ‘You have an equal chance of getting into this school.’’
The decision also followed a complaint from the parent of an Asian student, alleging the interview process was discriminatory. Although the student had been in Highline’s highly capable program, her father said she didn’t receive enough points on the application or interview rubrics.
Enfield said district officials already had been thinking about changing the admissions policy before that complaint was filed last July, and she and the Highline School Board determined that no discrimination occurred in that case. But the move to the lottery system ended a state investigation into the matter.
‘The concerns signaled to us that we needed to find a solution, or that solution would be determined for us by an outside entity,’ Enfield said.
Since its beginnings in 2004, Aviation has been a selective school. As one of the few aviation-themed schools in the country, it shares resources with The Museum of Flight and offers mentors and internships in aerospace companies. It’s consistently ranked as one of the top schools in the state. And in recent years, it has received about three applicants for every seat, with its students coming from all over the Puget Sound region.
But under the old application process, the school has long had both a gender and ethnic imbalance. It also was never able to reach a goal of 51 percent of students coming from within the district.
School and district officials said no explicit or implicit bias affected past admissions decisions, but there was no way to be entirely objective when judging each student’s commitment to the school and whether he or she would be a good fit.
Each year, they said, many applicants have been children of people who work in the aviation and aerospace industry, so the demographics mirrored that industry, which long has been ‘a white male world,’ said social-studies teacher Troy Hoehne.
‘But it’s changing, and it’s appropriate that the school change with it,’ he said. ‘I don’t think you would find a staff member who wouldn’t say we need more gender equality, we need to have a diversity plan that is more in tune with the population around us.’
Enfield said a lottery significantly reduces ‘the subjectivity to determine who gets in and who doesn’t.’
Along with changing the policy at Aviation, the district also changed its admissions process for two other schools that had used applications — CHOICE Academy and Big Picture.”

There is no question that Raisbeck Aviation High School is a great school and is working with students to excel in STEM fields. There is also no question that we need to provide high-quality STEM opportunities to students beyond those who already have access to great STEM education. We have brilliant young people all over our city and state, and they deserve the same access to opportunity as their more privileged peers.

 

Student demographics in Highline Public Schools and Raisbeck Aviation High School (courtesy of OSPI):