Rainier View Elementary Principal Wins Foster Award for Closing Opportunity Gap

by Makenna Dreher

Walking down the soon-to-be bustling hallway of Rainier View Elementary on a Thursday morning, Principal Anitra Jones describes the history of the school, including its reopening eight years ago. In mid-sentence, Jones stops as she sees a student coming out of the bathroom. She leans over and greets him by name with a high-five.

This positive energy Jones shares with her students and fellow staff members is one of the reasons she recently won a Thomas B. Foster Award for Excellence, an award given by Seattle’s Alliance for Education for principals closing the opportunity gap in their schools.

Happy laughter can be heard down the long hallways of Rainier View, including coming from the front office where Jones’ office is.

“I’m a firm believer that schools are successful because of the professionals that work within the school,” she said. “Rainier View Elementary has the best team. Not only classroom teachers but the front office team, the custodial staff, the lunchroom manager, the parents, and most importantly, the students. Working together as a team we have been able to work within our vision here.”

Nicole Matthews, administrative assistant at Rainier View, agrees and overflowed with praise of Jones, who has been the principal since the school’s reopening.

“I appreciate her ambition to making sure that all employees are given the support needed to do their best,” Matthews said. “Her overall effervescent personality is a joy to be around and I am excited to see where Rainier View goes because of her leadership.”

Rainier View Elementary has 382 K-5 students enrolled this year, with 71.7 percent low-income students compared to 42.4 percent at the state level, according to figures from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Additionally, Rainier View’s test scores are above average compared to Seattle Public Schools district averages, with 71 percent proficiency in English language arts compared to 66 percent in the district level and 74 percent proficiency in mathematics compared to 64 percent at the district level, according to a 2017 school report.

Proficiency in mathematics has improved since the 2011-12 school year. On average, students had 74.8 percent proficiency in mathematics in the 2016-17 school year compared to 51.87 percent proficiency in mathematics in the 2011-12 school year, according to the OSPI State Report Card.

It is more than just statistics for Jones, however.

“Yes, we’ve seen some success compared to district and state averages,” she said. “But we’re still working towards our goal that every student at Rainier View meets and/or exceeds grade level standards.”

Jones also won the Washington Milken Educator Award this November, given by the Initiative of the Milken Family to reward top educators around the United States. This award came with an additional $25,000 grant for Jones, but she doesn’t take all the credit. In fact, she was surprised both times she won.

“I also really believe that no one is successful on their own,” Jones said with a smile. “I have a large team of individuals who support me, push me, advocate for me, so these awards are more than just me.”

And many of those people came to support her when she received the Foster Award on Nov. 5, 2018.

“There were so many people who wanted to come out and be a part of her receiving that award because she has a strong community across Seattle Public Schools,” said Lisa Chick, president and CEO of Alliance for Education.

The front office of Rainier View Elementary is filled with encouraging messages and a friendly staff. The vision of Rainier View Elementary is to build a solid academic foundation for K-12, college, career and life, said Jones. (Photo: Makenna Dreher)

Alliance for Education is a nonprofit organization that gives out the Foster Award to principals annually. Jones is the second out of four winners this year. Principal Chris Carter of Asa Mercer International Middle School also won the award this year.

Typically the organization gives out one Foster Award each year. The Alliance for Education is re-launching the program with four winners this year because it didn’t give one out last year, and will be awarding two Foster Awards in 2019, Chick said.

“The idea behind the award was to recognize principals’ hard work and commitment,” Chick said. “Typically, principals in the public school systems don’t get a lot of recognition or awards.”

“It’s a pretty thankless job,” Chick said. “It’s a wonderful job, but it’s also really hard.”

Alliance for Education was founded 24 years ago out of a discussion between the district and community leaders interested in connecting the public-education system to the broader community, Chick said. The group holds fundraisers to raise money for its awards and school emergency funds and organizes the Seattle Teacher Residency program, which helps recruit, train and place teachers in Seattle’s poverty-impacted schools.

“Considering our list of nominees and folks who were potential awardees, Principal Jones was definitely brought up on multiple occasions as a strong contender for the award,” Chick said. “She has relationships with a lot of other principals who had received the award in the past.”

Every morning at Rainier View, Jones brings all of the students and staff together in the auditorium for a meeting for a message of positive encouragement and to recite the Pledge of Allegiance as a school.

“Every morning is an opportunity for positive contact with students,” Jones said. “We often talk about how smiles are contagious here at Rainier View. We know what the research says about children needing to feel a sense of connection and belonging. And that’s one of the reasons why we gather in the morning as part of our community.”

Additionally, this time of year, Jones conducts goal-setting meetings and formal observations with the teachers to work on objectives aligned with Rainier View and Seattle Public Schools, Jones said

“We are only successful because of the quality of professionals within every classroom,” she said.

“You’ll find the best elementary students right here at Rainier View,” said Jones. “They work hard, that’s one of our mottos, nothing is given, everything is earned.”

Jones has big dreams for her students’ futures in the city of Seattle.

“I would like for children who are born and raised in this city to be able to compete with the best jobs in our city. To be able to lead our city as mayor, or our state as governor,” Jones said with emotion. “Those are the things that kind of get me choked up because right here we are building the best minds to lead our city of Seattle.”

Featured Image: Principal Anitra Jones of Rainier View Elementary stands in front of her school’s multiple awards on Nov. 15, 2018. Jones recently won a Thomas B. Foster Award and the Washington Milken Educator Award. (Photo: Makenna Dreher)

This article has been corrected. The $25,000 grant from the Washington Milken Educator Award is awarded to the educator, not the school. The Emerald regrets the error.