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With vote to make big changes at Central District middle school, board starts long process of addressing race problems in Seattle’s gifted education

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.

Washington Middle School

The S Jackson school (Image: Seattle Public Schools)

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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24 thoughts on “With vote to make big changes at Central District middle school, board starts long process of addressing race problems in Seattle’s gifted education

    • This is why Seattle has more kids per capita in private schools than any other major city in the us. Sadly if you have the means it’s often the best choice. I guess if you’re gifted but growing up poor or even middle class, suck it up and don’t get the extra individualized education you might need to thrive.

  1. But this way a charter school gets free use of a public school, along with its staff and resources. The best kind of private-partnership if you run a private enterprise.

    Betsy DeVos favors such partnerships. We’ll get more under Seattle’s leadership.

    • BTW, I noticed another “Aaron” cropped up very recently so I’m changing my moniker to “Aaron 86”. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize the dual use or I would have changed my moniker’s of the above post @2:02pm.

    • It looks like Technology Access Foundation is a non-profit organization, so no one is making a profit from their work. DeVos pushes for-profit corporate education, which is very different.

      • Erik, you can’t be so naive to think, a non-profit status doesn’t mean people don’t make money and get access and social boost from it.

        DeVos pushes both.

  2. I was appalled by Zach DeWolf’s disrespectful behavior last night. Far from being “forced” to call a recess to “de-escalate tension,” he created the most embarrassing and contemptuous spectacle of the night by calling a recess and actually WALKING OUT OF THE ROOM while a black mom was testifying that it’s unfair for her son to be denied the same access to HCC as students have in other parts of the city. It’s true that the speaker exceeded her speaking time (probably by less than a minute), but the school board has allowed other speakers to go much longer over the time limit without interruption at recent meetings. I am disgusted to see our school board representative treat a parent (especially a parent of color whose kid is being affected by his decision) that way. DeWolf is also the only school board member who doesn’t hold regular meetings to allow constituents to speak with him. I don’t think it bodes well for the political future he’s clearly hoping for.

  3. Hoping someone can educate me: is TAF a charter school? Will WMS now be a hybrid part charter, part neighborhood school? Will the per-student funding allotted to this school need to stretch further due to the addition of a non-profit into the equation? I guess my main question is: will the addition of TAF add more resources to the school or subtract?

  4. Thank you for covering! No coverage i have seen has answered this question: who is funding TAFs work at Washington middle school? The district will be ponying up extra but TAF also paying $ I believe – why is this so mysterious? Who is this mystery donor making this happen? I really wish a journo would ask – thanks tho for some of the details!

    • Let me demystify. It’s the Gates Foundation.

      Probably through several intermediaries, but if you want to do the detective work it won’t take long.

      Why TAF? Because it has a Microsoft founder and is a long term grantee. Why Washington Middle School? Because the school is at the intersection of their work on homelessness in the PNW (partnership with SHA on Yesler Terrace, those kids are zoned into WMS) and their K-12 education work, including recent investments in charter schools. Why this model? Like a charter school, but not as politically radioactive.

      I can only hope the achieve what they’ve achieved in Federal Way! 35% (or fewer) students meeting state benchmarks. Comparable or worse to the district overall.

      Here’s a great question – how much money has the Foundation given the school district, including through intermediaries, and what is that money used for?

    • The Seattle School Board and the Superintendent simply took TAF at their word. Normally, school board members must approve grants >$250K. School board members will not approve TAF grants. One can imagine problems with this situation.

  5. Capitol Hill blog needs to stop reporting on the Central District. You have no stake or respect for this neighborhood. Go back to reporting on cupcake shops for ad payments.

  6. As a resident of the Central District, I thank you for your reporting, but it should also be noted that this school also serves families in Capitol Hill. Washington Middle School serves students HCC that are from Capitol Hill, Montlake, Madison Park, Madrona, Leschi, Central District, and Southeast Seattle.

  7. I’m no school expert, but it does seem basically unfair that students in many parts of Seattle can benefit from gifted programs, but that these will not be available for students who live in the Washington Middle School catchment area. I suspect that this will be the argument by those parents who take this proposal to court, if they do.

  8. Looks like there will be an influx of parents sending their children to private school if they can get their children into one. If not, there is always moving to the Eastside. Northshore, Bellevue, and Lake Washington school districts are highly rated. If I had children, I definitely would be living there.

  9. Hey here is an idea

    Why not just let really smart kids (“gifted”) regardless of race into advanced education?

    Is it really that hard to do?

    There are people with high IQs and then there are the rest. Why should race play into any part of that?

    Life is not fair – not everyone is an Einstein.

  10. Technology Access Foundation was brought into Seattle Public Schools by, essentially, the Seattle Superintendent Denise Juneau and 6 willing school board members. Essentially, the district will allow a private entity to use a public property for the next 10 years. A great template to privatize education by a few individuals.

    The district first tried to hand WMS over to TAF via Creative Schools Approach, which teachers rejected. Denise Juneau was undeterred and created an end- run and got TAF into Seattle by considering it a program

    SPS allowed WMS to die on the vine. Classes of 40 students. The district claimed they didn’t have funding to relieve WMS- until TAF came on board. Juneau and the board agreed to give this school an additional $180K per grade for the next 10 years.

    TAF at WMS was not supported by the community. TAF couldn’t get community meetings to show-up for presentations. Certainly, the community wasn’t coming out to support TAF.

    The board foolishly signed a Joint Operating Agreement with TAF that does not specify accountability metrics.

    Community members reported that TAF’s Director was hissing at parents that spoke in opposition to TAF at WMS. This level of contempt is unacceptable for those seeking to serve students in a public institution.

    Newly elected school board member (7 weeks) insults community members:

  11. Some important missing distinctions: 1. people are not “opposed to TAF” they are opposed to dismantling advanced learning options without a plan how to serve those students, 2. The people who were cut off for exceeding the very short 2 minute limit to testify were black families with kids in advanced learning who are directly and immediately impacted by this decision, 3. The directly surrounding area of this school is ground zero for major gentrification that is well underway and quickly transforming, by displacement, the population that will be served by this program in near future years.

    • Also: what the black parents who were cut off were testifying about was not against TAF, it was asking for an amendment allowing them to send their already enrolled advanced learners to one of the middle schools who aren’t dismantling hcc next year for continuum of service.

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