“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.
Continue reading OPINION: Anonymous Survey Reveals Educator Despair, Poor District Communication
by Ari Robin McKenna
The “Washington Ethnic Studies Now (WAESN) 3rd Annual Assembly on Organizing for Ethnic Studies” will be held virtually on Saturday, April 24, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It features keynote speaker Dr. Verónica (Vero) Vélez, an organizer, activist, and award-winning professor at University of Western Washington, as well as keynote panelists Brent Jones Jr., the incoming interim Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools (SPS), Brandon Hersey, the SPS South End board director of District 7, and more than 20 other speakers.
In recent conversation with the Emerald, Tracy Castro-Gill, the executive director of WAESN, says the goal of the assembly is “to build collective capacity, and let people know where they can plug into existing efforts, or how they can start their own efforts.” She stressed how this assembly differs from standard professional development workshops for teachers, saying, “There’s people who are individually trying to do this in their classroom, but we know that to teach ethnic studies well, you need a community behind you. It’s not a traditional education conference, it’s about organizing and networking and building community. It’s a lot of how to do those things on different levels.”
Continue reading Washington Ethnic Studies Now’s Third Annual Assembly to Take Place April 24
by Ari Robin McKenna
Trigger Warning: this article includes descriptions of incidents in which racist language is used.
In a student-lead briefing on Monday, Jan. 25 on Zoom, educators, parents, youth in the NAACP Youth Coalition, and members of the press convened to kick off the Black Lives Matter (BLM) at School Week of Action in Seattle. Now a national movement four years running, it all began here in the South End in 2016 when John Muir Elementary School (JMES) had to temporarily cancel plans for an assembly meant to bolster the morale of Black students. After word spread via Breitbart News Network that teachers at the district-sponsored event would be wearing Black Lives Matter t-shirts, organizers received hate mail and a bomb threat, causing them to temporarily cancel the assembly. Then, in an impressive display of Seattle solidarity with JMES, over 3,000 educators district-wide showed up to work donning “Black Lives Matter” shirts, and a movement was born.
Continue reading Fourth-Annual National BLM at School Week of Action Kicks Off With Calls for Local Accountability
by Ari Robin McKenna
This is the sixth in a series of seven articles about ethnic studies. Find the first five here.
On January 30, 2020, during the whir of a work day, the Seattle Public Schools Ethnic Studies Program Manager, Tracy Castro-Gill, was placed on paid administrative leave. She was told she needed to be out of the John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence (JSCEE) effective immediately. As Castro-Gill was escorted out of the building with all of her belongings, she remembers that time seemed to go in reverse as she passed coworkers she’d called out for their actions or words supporting systemic racism — in a district office that has presided over a school system with decades of appalling racial disparities. The Ethnic Studies Advisory Group (ESAG) that Castro-Gill had assembled to develop K–12 ethnic studies content began a boycott of SPS the next day in protest. Mandated by a unanimous 2017 School Board of Directors order, the Advisory Group’s work has remained on a district hard drive somewhere inside the bunker-like JSCEE, despite the winds of change swirling outside. A white man Castro-Gill worked with later mocked her with casual finality: “How’s that call-out culture working out for you, Tracy?”
Continue reading Tracy Castro-Gill Is Insuppressible, and So Is Ethnic Studies