What if we Flip the Script

We keep hearing from district administration that money is limited. We understand.

Seattle Public Schools families understand what it’s like to live on a tight budget; rents have gone up approximately 37% in the past 5 years and nearly 40% of SPS families qualify for free and reduced lunch.

If anyone is worried about money this week, it’s the families struggling to pay for extra childcare outside what they budgeted for. If anyone is trying to figure out how to do more with less, it’s the families who rely on school breakfasts and lunches to feed their families. If anyone is concerned about money, it’s the teacher who sent a plea for her donorschoose.org project that she’s hoping to get matching funds for to purchase books for her classroom.

Money is limited. So why are we spending it on an excessive number of standardized tests, far beyond the state and federal requirements?

Money is limited. So why are spending it on searches for position openings vacated by teachers who leave the profession or the district in search of decent pay?

Money is limited. So why do we keep spending it on searches, interims, and severance packages for superintendents in a district that has had FIVE people to hold that title in ten years?

Money is limited. And yet we’ve had to endure fraud and embezzlement and the attendant legal fees de-throning of district administrators.

Money is limited. So why are did the top 100 salaried administrators in the district earn a combined $1,400,000 MORE in 2014-15 than two years before?

Money is limited. So why are we spending it to retain counsel to explore legal action against the teachers for striking?

Money is limited. So what is being done to bring pressure to bear on Governor Inslee to call a special session of the legislature and get out of contempt on the McCleary decision?

Money is limited. So what is our district leadership doing to change our funding model?

Our educators already know that money is limited.

Money is limited. Our teachers bring in their own art and equipment for their classrooms.

Money is limited. A science teacher keeps the same population of meal worms alive for over ten years.

Money is limited. A school nurse cruises the Goodwill to stock up on extra clothes for the kids who have accidents and rarely return the loaners.

Money is limited. Parents buy basic classroom supplies.

Money is limited. Educators are already responsible stewards of district resources. Don’t balance the budget on their backs.

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This Would Only Happen to Educators

One of the things about this strike that begs credulity is that somehow, teacher compensation has been forced into a negotiation package on issues that have nothing to do with salary. Our educators are on strike for a host of reasons, and it’s a real headscratcher as to how issues like recess time and equity in discipline around the opportunity gap got on the table when negotiating fair pay.

There are educators on strike because students in other schools don’t have guaranteed adequate recess. Teachers are on strike because other schools don’t have equity in discipline. Educators who teach advanced placement and high ability students are waving placards so that students in self-contained special education classrooms have access to the professional services they need.

Now imagine any other job where you would negotiate your contract based on the working conditions of colleagues in different departments across the city. Continue reading This Would Only Happen to Educators

Everybody Goes to School

On the picket lines yesterday, I got a few moments to hear from a special education teacher. After a hot day stumping around on the concrete, talking about his students put a huge grin on his face.

“I have the best families,” he enthused, his passion for his students radiating from him. I learned that he works in a self-contained classroom. “Everybody goes to school.”

Everybody goes to school.

It’s a revolutionary idea. We live in a time and place where the predominant belief is that everybody deserves access to an education.

Not just the aristocrats.

Not just the boys.

Not just the children of literate people.

Not just the citizens.

Not just the neurotypical.

Not just the whites.

Everybody goes to school. 

I’m not saying our system is perfect, or that massive reforms aren’t needed to provide the care and services to the most vulnerable students. I’m not saying there isn’t an opportunity gap. I’m not saying that there is racial equity in discipline. I’m just saying, that in this place, in this brief slice of human history, we live in a place where access to education is PUBLIC.

We have thousands of educators, many with advanced degrees, who work to implement this idea in a thousand ways every day.

By working a plan to communicate with a student who is just learning English.

By meeting with parents to learn how to best partner in the education of a medically fragile child.

By getting a homeless student to the right shuttle at day’s end.

By calling on the girls who don’t raise their hands.

By designing a lesson to engage a reluctant reader who needs to use her whole body when she’s sounding out words.

By welcoming a refugee student to the American school system for the first time.

Everybody goes to school. 

Not just the test acers.

Not just the ones who will profit their families by getting an education.

Not just the ones with parents who can afford it.

Not just the ones who were born in perfect health.

Everybody goes to school. 

That’s the foundation of our democracy. School is a place where we learn to be citizens and to care for one another. Not to care for just some of us. Everybody.

It’s enshrined in our Washington state constitution as our paramount responsibility.

When will our state officials and district leadership restore this sacred trust and fund a city and a state where each child can get an education?

And when will we as citizens hold our elected officials accountable to that great democratic ideal: everybody goes to school.

On Private School and Choice

“So, when are we going to get sick of this and just go to private school?”

It’s said jokingly, in the handoffs with makeshift childcare arrangements. When the e-mails come in from the district: no school tomorrow. When we see first day of school photos rolling in from friends around town, their kids looking pert and uniformed. We imagine private school parents swinging from the chandeliers, mimosas in hand and bathrobes casually askew as they saunter back home to eat bonbons and mine Pinterest for birthday party ideas.

Instead, this week public school parents are scrambling for childcare. Summer has already gone a few days past its sell-by date, with the kids amped up on daily hopes of starting school and a stench of too much sibling togetherness. Those who stay home do it only with a blue U.N. peacekeeping helmet and a constant drip of coffee. Those who work outside the home drag kids to the office, beg favors from friends and family, or call any organization or camp that may be offering childcare on the fly.

It’s stressful.

“Seriously, have you thought about private school?”

In Seattle, nearly 30% of our school-age children attend private schools. I find this fascinating, as we’re one of the most un-churched cities in the country. Private school choice is not a religious phenomenon.

Continue reading On Private School and Choice

The Thing About Marching Is…

The thing about marching is: you’ve got time for your mind to work. The nervous energy spalls off with your marching, and you can really go deep.

The thing about marching with a group is: you’ve got moments. Moments for conversations, deep sharing, and joking. Moments where you get to know another person in a beautiful, unexpected way.

The thing about marching is that it goes well with singing, or a good Sousa dogfight, or a call-and-response chant led by one rousing voice.

Some of the teachers I talked to today walked over nine miles in a little strip in front of the school they’re not allowed to enter. There were educators on crutches. Picketers in wheel chairs.

When asked about the issues, every teacher I spoke with expressed concern for others. “I’m doing okay,” they’d say,  “But I’m really worried about someone else.” For first-year teachers at the bottom rungs of the pay scale, how would they pay the rent. For teachers with families, how would they afford to live in the district where they teach. How the nurses and speech therapists and psychologists who divide their time between schools could manage caseloads. How the students would develop and reach their potential without enough time to play if they only got 15 minutes of recess.

These teachers striking aren’t “stiffing” our students.

They have unanimously decided to stand up for the dignity of our students by allowing them access to play and to equitable discipline.

They have unanimously voted to stand up for the dignity of their profession, for their worth as educated professionals to earn a living wage.

They have unanimously declared that as the stewards of this great democratic institution — free public education for all children — they will exercise their rights to speak and to assemble.

The thing about marching is, you crystallize your purpose. James Bevel famously expressed that he didn’t know what he thought they should ask for Governor Wallace to do when the Voting Rights Marchers set out from Selma; he just figured that the 54 road miles would give them time to settle into a rhythm. To bond. To think. To strategize. They’d know by the time they arrived.

The thing about marching is, some have called it “praying with our feet.” With each footfall, hopes and intentions rise.

The thing about marching is, it’s a community that’s going someplace.

The thing about marching is, when you do it, people want to join you.

Which State Shall We Live In?

Tonight I write, from the state of Washington. A state overflowing with natural beauty and resources, this great green land on the Pacific that spawned Nirvana and Amazon and big timber and Boeing and apples and Microsoft. We are smallish on population, sharply divided as our political leanings follow our geography. Volcanoes. Glaciers. Rainforests. Soaring cathedrals of trees. Grand broad hills of wheat. More food and smarts and technology than we have a right to.

We were the first state whose citizens took up our ballots and declared, “Here, ALL loving couples are allowed to marry.” We love a popular consensus.  The grunge-libertarian ethic encourages us all to “come as you are.”

I can walk out of my house and share a bike, hop on a ferry or light rail train, or take a bus and within a few miles see otters, sea lions, bald eagles, orcas, and all manner of brilliant sea stars at low tide, all for the cost of a coffee. I can barely believe that I have the great privilege to raise my daughters in a place that is so vibrantly beautiful.

But tonight, I don’t feel that the vibrant beauty is evident in the way we take care of each other in this, my adopted state.

We are, tonight, one of the most sharply UNEQUAL states I can imagine living in.

Continue reading Which State Shall We Live In?

Ain't gonna let nobody turn me around