Tag Archives: Ari Robin McKenna

PHOTO ESSAY: Student Voices, Demands From Last Friday’s COVID-19 Walkout

by Ari Robin McKenna, photos by Chloe Collyer

Recently, in Mx. Sam Cristol’s ethnic studies class at Cleveland STEM High School, students were discussing the effects of COVID-19 in Seattle. “We started with the idea of all of us being frustrated with the way that these issues are being handled — and not handled, for that matter,” said student organizer Nya Spivey, “and then we were like, well … what as students can we do?” Spivey and classmates Mia Dabney and Ava May decided they could do something, and so they did.

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Why School Was Cancelled at Kimball Elementary for the Past Three Days

by Ari Robin McKenna

When Seattle Public Schools’ (SPS) mass COVID-19 screening flagged seven of their coworkers last Monday, Kimball Elementary School staff knew they were in for a week. A tight-knit group who has a strong relationship with their Parents, Teachers, and Students Association (PTSA), Kimball’s staff braced themselves.

As the week progressed, Kimball — in Southeast Seattle and serving 75% students of color — was without one Instructional Assistant (IA) after another, as well as multiple teachers and an administrator. By the end of the week, Kimball was short six IAs. School staffs across Seattle have been worn down by factors including a national substitute teacher shortage, the challenges teaching students returning to in-person school after a such long break, and unrealistic pressure to “catch up.” Yet while the entire system is in crisis, throughout last week, Kimball staff approached its actual breaking point.

Kimball Music Teacher and Seattle Education Association (SEA) Union Rep KT Raschko, described staffs’ still-determined ethos in the hallways of the Van Asselt building, where Kimball is housed while its new building is constructed:

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SPS’ ‘Let’s Go’ Program Prepares South End Students to Become Bike Commuters

by Ari Robin McKenna

In early November, a big green trailer pulled up, parked, and disgorged dozens of blue kids’ bikes at Louisa Boren STEM K–8 (LB STEM) in West Seattle, the first of Seattle Public Schools’ (SPS) 71 elementary schools that will benefit from the Let’s Go bike program this year.

For the next three weeks, third to fifth graders will learn everything they’ll need to know about how to bike to school by themselves. An SPS press release states, “In addition to the physical fundamentals of helmet safety, balancing, steering, pedaling, and stopping, Let’s Go teaches kids the rules of safe and courteous riding along with skills to cross a street at intersections.”

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OPINION: Anonymous Survey Reveals Educator Despair, Poor District Communication

“I’m not sure I’m making a difference anymore. We are drowning here.”

by Tracy Castro-Gill and Ari Robin McKenna

(This article is reprinted with permission from the Washington Ethnic Studies Now blog.)

On Tuesday, Nov. 9, Seattle Public Schools (SPS) Human Resources Department (HR) sent an email to parents and then 39 minutes later to educators — almost as an afterthought — announcing the unexpected closure of schools just three days later on Nov. 12, sending parents without work flexibility scrambling for childcare.

The HR email author might have mentioned the national teacher shortage. They might have mentioned that — in the wake of the pandemic — substitute teachers have dried up. Nearly every school in the district is shuffling to cover daily absences, with teachers having to use up designated grading and planning time. They might have mentioned that a district calendar initially had Friday as a holiday, and office staff at various schools circulated it before it was updated. They might even have mentioned that, for over a month, staff at SPS district headquarters have been signing up to cover absences — despite, in some cases, not having an active teacher certification.

Instead, HR chalked it up neatly to teachers insisting on taking leave. “We are aware of an unusually large number of SPS staff taking leave on Friday,” the email explained. Then they chose to end the email assuring their audiences that the district’s central office, the John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence (JSCEE), would remain open Friday — as if anyone reading this email cared about anything other than classrooms and children.

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Parents at Charter School Cry Foul as Students Eat Inside Doubled-Up Classrooms

by Ari Robin McKenna

When students at Puget Sound Elementary (PSE) in Tukwila returned to in-person learning at the end of August, the neighborhood surrounding the office-building-turned-elementary-school had one of the highest positive COVID-19 case rates in King County — according to the County’s COVID-19 dashboard at the time. Meanwhile, parents say in-person learning at almost every grade level was over-enrolled, especially 2nd and 3rd grades, which had class sizes of 37, 37, and 39 and 36, 38, and 37, respectively. According to concerned parents who spoke to the Emerald, because this school lacked a cafeteria, because the school’s stated educational model involved having two adults per classroom, and perhaps because of a loose interpretation of State guidance, in at least a couple of cases, for over a month, 40 people gathered their lunches, unmasked, and ate together inside classrooms.

Serving mostly students of color — many from immigrant and refugee households — PSE is one of a fast-growing group of charter schools setting up in southwest King County and Tacoma called Impact Public Schools (IPS). The first of four charter schools stamped for approval by the Washington State Charter School Commission in 2017, PSE was joined in 2019 by Salish Sea Elementary, in Seattle’s Othello neighborhood, and in 2020 by Commencement Bay Elementary in Tacoma. Next school year an already approved Black River Elementary will be opening in Renton. This growing portfolio of non-profit schools is presided over by CEO Jen Wickens, co-founder of IPS.

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Communication Key as South Seattle Schools Reporting Disproportionate COVID-19 Cases

by Ari Robin McKenna

With public school students back learning in-person for the second week during a delta variant surge, parents and guardians await crucial, timely information from their school or district in the event there are COVID-19 cases at their child’s school. Such information helps parents and guardians keep their kids safe and take precautions that impact collective safety. In South Seattle and southwest King County — where the majority of People of Color in the county live and where higher COVID-19 case rates have persisted throughout the pandemic — clear, transparent, effective communication becomes even more crucial. In these historically under-resourced communities, plenty of doubts remain about current communication during this delta stage of the pandemic.

When Seattle Public Schools (SPS) refreshed their COVID-19 dashboard on Monday evening for last school week, they reported 44 confirmed COVID-19 cases within their 104 schools and other educational sites. Ten of those cases were in the northwest and northeast districts, and 24 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in the southwest and southeast districts. This is despite the total number of students actually being 2,984 higher in the north. Though this week-one data set is minuscule, it accedes to the norms of the bigger picture: Seattle-wide, parents and guardians anxiously sent their kids to school on the first day, and perhaps predictably, more than twice as many from the South End have gotten sick.

To put the disparate current infection rates in perspective, a glance at the current King County “Daily COVID-19 outbreak summary dashboard” geography stub on Sept. 8 shows all of the highest reporting areas to be in the southwest corner of the county map. Central Federal Way, SeaTac/Tukwila, and South Auburn have the county’s highest COVID-19 positive case rates per 100,000 residents at 11,224.4, 11,328.6, and 12,843.1 respectively. Meanwhile, by contrast, whiter north Seattle neighborhoods have some of the county’s lowest rates, such as Ballard, Fremont/Green Lake, and northeast Seattle, which are at 2,996.1, 2,958.3, and 3,693.8 respectively.

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Student Activists Reflect on Long Overdue Rainier Beach High School Rebuild

by Ari Robin McKenna

For decades, the Rainier Beach community watched as other better-resourced high schools got major building renovations, waiting for their turn. Yet as various Seattle Public Schools’ (SPS) building levies passed them by, many members of the student population at Rainier Beach High School (RBHS) — which is currently 97% students of color — began to speak out.

From within a building built in 1961, students have been mounting pressure on the district for more than a decade. Finally, in 2019, the school board approved a replacement building as part of the Building Excellence (BEX) V Capital Levy. With RBHS set for a rebuild beginning next summer, the Emerald spoke to four students who were active in different waves of the push to make that happen.

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Beloved Cleveland Assistant Principal Ray Garcia-Morales Heads Home

by Ari Robin McKenna

After six years as an assistant principal at Cleveland STEM High School (Cleveland), Ray Garcia-Morales has returned to the neighborhood he grew up in, West Seattle, to become the principal at Chief Sealth International High School (Sealth). A reluctant student-turned-school-social worker-turned-principal, Garcia-Morales’ academic and professional path has been anything but traditional. Yet in speaking with various Cleveland staff who’ve worked with him, it became clear Garcia-Morales was cherished for what the beaten path doesn’t provide.

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