Last month Mayor Ed Murray called on Seattle Public Schools students to suggest ways the city could help close disparities inside their classrooms. O’Landa Baker’s idea?
“Getting an ORCA card would be good,” said the Garfield High School student. “It’s hard to find change in your couch when you’re rushing in the morning.”
Baker floated the idea during a student-led community meeting last week at the Central District high school. It was the 15th of 17 education-focused discussions happening around the city leading up to the mayor’s Education Summit on Saturday, April 30th at Garfield.
Data and ideas gathered at the discussions will be compiled into a report for the summit and will serve as a steering document for the mayor’s Education Advisory Group. While SPS operates independently from the City of Seattle, Murray organized the summit and advisory group to put the city’s resources towards addressing “the disparity in educational opportunity and outcomes that disproportionately impact students of color and those from lower-income families.”
During the April 19th meeting at Garfield, students broke into small groups to discuss some of those challenges. Several students of color spoke about feeling uncomfortable in advanced placement classes and the need for more teacher diversity in advanced classes. They also said they were not provided adequate information on what classes and clubs were available. “I’ve always been the only Latina girl in honors and AP classes,” said one student named Jessica.
As with many issues in public education, the root causes stretch far beyond the classroom. When asked about how parent-teacher groups could better engage families, one student said, “As a working class family, my parents don’t have time for PTSA fundraising.”
Another student agreed. “I don’t think it’s the parent’s responsibility to fundraise … they pay taxes,” she said.
Even at a Central Seattle school like Garfield that serves students from Capitol Hill, the Central District, and surrounding neighborhoods, Tianna Andresen said cultural competency is lacking and can negatively affect minority students in perhaps not so obvious ways. “If I say I’m from the Philippines, people just expect I know everything about the Philippines,” she said.
The mayor’s advisory group is also accepting feedback through an online survey.
The education summit will include an address by Murray, a presentation of the community discussions, and presentations from education experts on disparities in public schools. The advisory group includes educators, parents, city officials, and nonprofit leaders. The committee has four chairs:
Ron Sims, former Deputy Secretary for U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
Brad Tilden, President and CEO of Alaska Airlines
Sheila Edwards-Lange, interim President of Seattle Central College
Kristin Bailey-Fogarty, teacher at Eckstein Middle School
In 2014, voters approved Murray’s proposed property tax increase to create a 4-year pilot program to provide tuition-free pre-K for a quarter of Seattle’s 3- and- 4-year-olds and make subsidies available for the rest. In February, Dwane Chappelle was confirmed as the first ever Education Director for Seattle. Working under the mayor, Chappelle will be responsible for implementing the city’s pre-K program.
The Seattle education summit is Saturday, April 30th, 9 AM – 3:30 PM at Garfield High School, 400 23rd Avenue. Admission is free but a reservation is required.