There has been a series of historically cascading phrases to describe racial inequity in public school systems nationwide. “Achievement gap” was preferred for a while — but that phrase was inseparable from standardized tests proven both to consistently favor white students and to delineate “achievement” that actually just mirrored the family income levels of test takers. Then, “opportunity gap” began to replace it, but reeked of well-meaning naïveté. The phrase leaves room for the “gap” to have been arbitrarily created, and for a deficit perspective to persist about Communities of Color, when structural racism impacting educational opportunity is well-documented nationwide. Lately, the phrase “education debt” has gained traction, and puts the onus squarely on school districts to actively address past disparity.
“Reading is important because it expands your mind, your life. It extends your world,” said Haitian American writer Edwidge Danticat. Reading is also an essential skill that significantly impacts academic and career success in our country. But Children and Communities of Color, including many immigrants, often do not have equitable access to resources to learn and practice reading, making literacy a social justice issue.
Through their cross-age, one-on-one tutoring program, Seattle nonprofit Team Read is working to provide more equitable access to reading. The free program pairs trained teen reading coaches with second- and third-grade students to “propel young students to become inspired, joyful readers and teens to become impactful leaders.” The organization partnered with Seattle and Highline Public Schools to serve 22 elementary schools last school year and expanded its programming to include elementary schools in Renton and Tukwila this school year.
A mix of well over a hundred teachers, parents, and students showed up at the district headquarters in SoDo Wednesday, Oct. 27, for a rally on a quickly darkening, drizzly evening. A number of speeches were given under the partially covered colonnade in front of a red wall — on the other side of that wall the Seattle Public Schools (SPS) board was in a budget session addressing a $28.1 million loss of revenue due to enrollment decline and eyeing an estimated gap of $78 million for the 2022–2023 school year.
The rally was organized by Seattle Education Association (SEA) leadership in conjunction with the Special Education PTSA (SEPTSA). The protest was in response to word that there would be 50 schools affected by special education staffing adjustments — which SEPTSA reported on their blog. With the slogan “Needs Before Numbers,” the speakers at the rally criticized the impact of these moves at specific schools and a general lack of parent and teacher involvement in staffing decisions. Attendees also questioned whether a disproportionate amount of the 3,440 students that have left the district since 2019 were receiving appropriate special education services.
Tess Bath, a special education instructional assistant at Highland Park’s Social Emotional Learning (SEL) program, addressed the crowd warmly. “It’s really nice to be here with all y’all. We’ve been crying a lot and it feels really healing to just share space.” The start of the 2021–2022 school year, on the heels of two COVID-disrupted years, has been brutal on educators, and Bath read from a letter she’d sent to the district about how disruptive staffing changes can be in her line of work. “SEL is built on consistent and trusting relationships. To sever those would alter the very foundation of our program and our ability to do our jobs and serve our students … They deserve to have enough support to meet their IEP [Individual Education Program] goals, access their LRE [Least Restrictive Environment], and be seen as a priority by their school district.”
The disruption that occurs when a single educator is required to leave their school and the relationships they’ve built is incalculable. But given the context of a pandemic, a massive budget shortfall, and a special education system that favors white students, some have expressed doubts about the timing of this rally, and the information that catalyzed it.
In this final article of a three-part series, Jasmine M. Pulido explores the future of programs for students designated highly capable in Seattle Public Schools.
The Future of Highly Capable Cohort: From HCC to HCS
Highly capable services are deemed part of basic education by state law, but the cohort is not.Starting in the 2022–2023 school year, the district’s Advanced Learning Department will begin a six-year plan to phase out the cohortmodel while gradually phasing in a new model. The recently amended changes to School Board Policy 2190, “Highly Capable Services and Advanced Learning Programs,” convert this accelerated curriculum cohort model (HCC) into an inclusive and accessible service model (Highly Capable Services or HCS) to meet the needs of students at their neighborhood school. In other words, SPS will no longer focus on searching for and separating “gifted students” from the general student population and will, instead, focus on having flexible services available to all students. HCS will still include an accelerated curriculum but can also include services like enriched learning opportunities, classroom pullouts for advanced content on a specific subject, and cluster groups depending on what best meets the individual student’s needs. In short, Highly Capable Cohort as a self-contained setting for advanced students will be completely dismantled and phased out.
The brilliant council members of the Youth Activists for Systemic Change (YASC) organized a livestream event on Sat. January 23 in partnership with Town Hall Seattle to present a panel discussion on their thoughts and demands for creating a better future.
In June, these youth organized the Seattle Children’s March that was inspired by the Birmingham Children’s Crusade March of 1963. The members of YASC hosted a rally at Garfield Community Center, before leading a crowd of about 3,000 people on a march through the Central District. I, along with my daughter, attended that march and rally, and I remember being impressed by the passion and creativity of these youth who not only verbalized their demands, but performed music, dance, and poetry for the large crowd that included many youth like my daughter — who was inspired by these young activists.