Last night, the @SeaPubSchools board voted to partner with @STEMbyTAF at WMS. I’m excited to get this new curricular focus going in partnership with @SeattleEA, WMS staff, and TAF. Our scholars will benefit. Heck, our city will benefit. #SeattleExcellence @zacharybob pic.twitter.com/jbM1ADJhPv
— Superintendent Denise Juneau (@SeattleSupt) January 23, 2020
The Seattle School Board Wednesday night approved a 10-year deal that will bring in the third party Technology Access Foundation to help run a Central District middle school in what officials hope will be the start of addressing racial disparity and phasing out a gifted student program across the district.
From KUOW: The Seattle School Board voted on Wednesday in favor of co-operating a STEM-focused secondary school with the nonprofit Technology Access Foundation at what is presently the Washington Middle School campus. Wrapped into the vote is the stipulation that the school must phase out its highly capable cohort, or HCC, an advanced learning model in which students who would traditionally be considered “gifted” are instructed in self-contained classrooms.
The move comes after months of debate over how best to address racial inequity in Seattle Public Schools where statistics have shown that the racial makeup of Highly Capable education students does not mirror the general student population despite decades of efforts. In December, a parent and community group called on state Attorney General Bob Ferguson to intervene in the debate over reshaping advanced learning and said it will consider legal remedies to stop the dismantling of Highly Capable instruction at only the Central District school.
Under the Seattle Public Schools system, Washington serves as the only middle school with the advanced learning program serving the area of the city including Capitol Hill and the Central District. Opponents to the TAF plan say eliminating the program for these students and not advanced students in areas like West Seattle and Ballard is unfair.
The vote is a step forward on one of the pledges made by Superintendent Denise Juneau when she took the position in 2018.
TAF began as a science and engineering-focused school program more than twenty years ago and has grown to operate a combined middle and high school in partnership with the Federal Way district. It maintains a philosophy of project based education that its leaders say appeal to kids of all backgrounds and helps address economic and social disparities.
“TAF is a nonprofit leader redefining Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education in public schools,” the foundation writes. “We focus on supporting public school districts to use STEM as a tool for realizing social change and educational equality in low income communities and underrepresented communities. Our approach leverages in-school and out-of-school learning to shift the role of education in students’ lives, cultivating leadership in all students toward equity in their community.”
The Seattle Times has the numbers on the deal:
The Technology Access Foundation (TAF) will jointly operate Washington Middle School for the next decade, starting in the fall. The agreement will cost Seattle Public Schools about an additional $1.1 million over the first three years. The measure passed with six members approving and one member, Eden Mack, abstaining.
The Times also reports that public comments Wednesday night “became heated, with several opponents of TAF Academy testifying beyond the two minutes allotted to each speaker” and newly selected school board president Zachary DeWolf being forced to call a “five minute recess in an attempt to deescalate the tension.” CHS reported on the selection of DeWolf, a longtime part of the Capitol Hill Community Council who unsuccessfully mounted a run for Kshama Sawant’s city council seat this summer, to lead the school board.
The next step for opponents could be the courts.
There may also be help on the way from Olympia. Democrat State Sen. Jamie Pedersen representing the area’s 43rd District has introduced legislation that would extend legal protections to the state’s gifted students if their districts opt to make changes like the planned phase-out at Washington.
Juneau and school board members testified against the proposed bill Wednesday prior to the evening TAF vote.
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