Second in a series - several questions came from readers. I hope to put together at least one debate.
(I have not heard from Robin Fleming or Chris Reykdal. Rep Reykdal has been in legislative session for months now and, of course, must continue on until the supplemental budget is completed. As for Gil Mendoza, he does not have a website so I am unable to contact him via a non-governmental address.)
PO Box 23125 - Seattle, WA 98102
I have been involved in education for the past 24 years. I have taught in a variety of environments, from predominantly African American to predominantly Caucasian to some of the most diverse communities in the nation. I received an award as the Most Innovative World Language Teacher in 2007, while working at Stewart Middle School in Tacoma and was the Washington State Milken Educator of the Year in 2008 while teaching at Rogers High School in Spokane. I received recognition at the White House in March of 2013 as a "Champion of Change."
I currently work as the Director of the AVID program in Tacoma. I chose to run for office as my way to leverage what I have learned and the success I have had in the system to serve a greater audience. I am the first Black woman to run for state office in Washington and hope to blaze a trail for others to follow. I would be honored to earn the support of your constituency.
Why are you running for State Superintendent of Public Instruction and what do you believe the role of the superintendent is to public education in Washington State?
I have done almost every job in education, from substitute teacher to classroom teacher to instructional coach to state director and assistant state superintendent at OSPI (first under Terry Bergeson and then under Randy Dorn) to district director in two districts.
I run because I want to bring coherence to an often-disjointed system.
I run because our children and educators deserve an advocate who has done the work, has closed gaps in classrooms and in systems.
I run to elevate the teaching profession, because how can we expect our best and brightest to even consider the profession, if it remains denigrated by the media and the public.
I run with the intention of collaborating with many stakeholders in education - classified and certificated educators, administrators, higher education employees, parents, students and community-based organizations from all regions of the state - to create a strategic plan that will become a roadmap for the Legislature and other education entities as they consider developing policy and programmatic practices.
I run to ensure that OSPI, an agency in which I once worked, serves not only as the pass-through for federal and state funds and the compliance mechanism to be sure monies are spent appropriately but also as coach and support for districts and buildings looking to make improvements. I want to reframe the mission of the Office to be the primary support to schools to improve student achievement and performance. We can no longer criticize the failure of schools in our most impoverished communities if we are unwilling to provide them with the training and resources they need to serve our most vulnerable students and communities.
What do you think is the number one concern with special education in this state? What is your view of the OEO's report on special education? What would you do, specifically, to improve special education in this state?
I believe the greatest challenge for special education in the state is the over-reliance on the completion of paperwork and a heavy focus on compliance. As I speak to special education teachers in different environments, each of them struggles with finding time to serve their students when they are so bogged down with paperwork. I understand the desire to hold systems accountable for making sure students are served well and not harmed, but I think teachers are now overwhelmed with tasks that don't actually serve students. Furthermore, I think we as a state system don't support SPED teachers or general education teachers who serve students with special needs to provide them with tools and strategies that are effective. There is a move towards full-inclusion (not separating students in homogeneous classrooms), but often the general education staff have not does not have the training they need to be successful with students served by IEPs.
As someone who worked with the Office of Education Ombuds (OEO) for four years as the Director of the Center for the Improvement of Student Learning, which was co-created in the legislation with OEO, I am convinced that much (if not all) of the report is accurate and must be addressed. There are far too many students served by special programs that are not being adequately or appropriately served. However, I think many districts do not have realistic or actionable plans to change their behavior around SPED programming. Having worked at OSPI and now in a district, I would like will rethink how OSPI provides services and supports in a variety of areas, including SPED. We MUST move beyond compliance and provide support and training in how to be more effective. I believe this work MUST be done in a dramatically different way.
What is your position on charters schools personally? What would be your view if you were elected superintendent and there was a charter law in place that did not support your role under Article Three, Section 22 of the state constitution?
I voted against charter schools in 2012. I did so because I do not that charter schools are good for us as a system. Over time, they are not serving for the very students who are already vulnerable in the system (students of color, English Language Learners (ELL) students, students served by special education programs). In my opinion, the charter school conversation is taking up time, energy and resources that could be focused on better serving the million plus students who are served by ourenrolled in our public schools.
If we were to take all the money and time and energy that has been expended on both the pro-charter AND anti-charter movements, we could have leveraged these resources to support the schools that exist now. We could have used that money to help districts develop plans for social-emotional learning and restorative justice. We could have trained thousands of staff how to support students who have experienced trauma. If a charter law existed that allowed charter schools to exist under the auspices of the State Superintendent's office, then we can have a different conversation. However, the focus of the efforts of OSPI MUST BE on the millions, not the few thousand.
How do you see the role of OSPI in enforcing education-related RCWs and WACs?
One of our primary responsibilities is to "enforce" RCWs and WACS, although one of the ways I would like to "add to" that is to not only focus on enforcement and compliance but to provide the necessary support and training to make sure school districts and school staff have the foundation to implement the laws and rules in the ways they were intended to be implemented, not just comply.
One of the reasons I am running for this office is because I realized while at OSPI that there was a disconnect between Olympia and school districts. I realized while there that just sending out rules to districts outlining RCWs and WACs is NOT ENOUGH. We must provide opportunities for systems to develop new practices and, to partner districts who are struggling with those who are successful.
What will you do to protect the privacy of all students in Washington State? How will you keep their personal information safe (i.e. not accidentally distributed to the wrong people) and, how will you protect them from having personal data collected and sold/used/shared as they go thru their K-12 years?
All of our students' data MUST be protected. At the state level we must discuss how to ensure this is a reality. We need to have the most up-to-date technology to protect data. There must be training for staff who are working with student data to ensure they know how to protect data and not to accidentally send it to others. I think these same conversations and trainings must be provided for districts as well, since data is shared within and among districts.
How can you, as superintendent, assist parents who are frustrated with the education their children are receiving?
My first job at OSPI was as Director of the Center for the Improvement of Student Learning. This job was the family engagement "arm" of OSPI. The fact that the office was de-funded speaks volumes about the importance placed on communicating with families and providing families with opportunities to communicate about their experiences. The office still exists in statute but must be re-funded.
I believe that as the lead education office for the state, we model our values about the role of families. For me, family engagement is critical to the the success of our public schools. There must be a way to clearly communicate with families, as well as a way for families to communicate about their experiences with schools. This is part of the work of the OEO - opportunities to share negative experiences about schools and try to work out solutions.
However, this means that office needs to be expanded. There is also the reality that we are a local control state, which means that there must be a vehicle for families to communicate directly with their school districts. What happens in a district must be addressed by that district. I believe, however, that the role of OSPI should should be to help families know how to appropriately address their concerns with their school districts. It is my experience that many families do not understand how to advocate for the needs and concerns of their students. I want to ensure that there is a transparent process.
How can educators and education administrators support struggling students without ignoring the needs of students working beyond standard?
I have three children - one who qualified for gifted education, one with a 504 Plan and one student who qualified for "regular education" programs. In the end, except for when my youngest had access to "gifted" programming or access to Advanced Programs, he was not challenged. He read on his own. He wrote on his own. He drew on his own. My son with a 504 Plan was rarely served. I had to work hard to make sure my son got what he needed, to help his teachers understand how to accommodate him for his dysgraphia. Each of my children needed something different.
I believe smaller class sizes, especially at elementary is one solution to this issue. It is very difficult for a teacher to meet the needs of all the students in his/her class when there are so many needs. It is also my experience that most staff have only been trained to support "students in the middle."
Classroom teachers need support AND materials to help them better serve both students who are working "above standard" and those who are struggling to meet standard, either because they are being served by special education services, English language programs or 504 Plans. We can't expect teachers to spend time in addition to planning trying to seek out appropriate materials for the diversity of student learners in our classrooms. The need or differentiation is why I am a fan of team teaching - having ELL or SPED teachers work side-by-side with teachers in general education classrooms - and having instructional coaches who can provide on-the-job coaching and training for staff.
Name three things that are not currently being done that you believe will help close the opportunity gap for students of color.
We need to believe and act as a system. We must act as if students of color actually have the capacity to achieve at high levels! As the staff person who managed the Achievement Gap Oversight and Accountability Committee, I spent almost three years looking at the research developed from the Achievement Gap Reports to determine what could be done. Our initial move as a committee was to change the language from Achievement Gap to Opportunity Gap. The purpose was to get away from the deficit mentality of the original term. AG encourages blaming of students and teachers and parents and schools and communities. Opportunity Gap speaks to what we can do AS A SYSTEM to ensure that students get what they need to be successful.
After looking at the five reports, I discovered five common elements that must be done differently in school systems:
1. How we gather/share/discuss/utilize data,
2. How we recruit, hire, train, support and retain educators in the state - especially educators of color but also white teachers who demonstrate success with marginalized students,
3. How we engage community and families authentically in the school process - recognizing that they are co-educators with the school system,
4. How we support the social-emotional, physical, mental, academic and cultural needs of students, and
5. How we transition students smoothly from one level to the next - from elementary to middle, middle to high and high to post-secondary (college/career/life).
I think we're doing a better job with SOME data, although I suggest that we need to gather and share non-academic data as well. I also believe we are not sharing data that is accessible or comprehensible to the general public. There are ways we are currently seeking to address teacher recruitment, although I would suggest that this conversation belongs more with the Professional Educators Standards Board (a board on which the state superintendent sits but does not create law). This board determines all standards for teacher education programs and requirements for teacher certification.
My role on that board would be to eliminate existing barriers to certification and to encourage supports, particularly for populations of teacher candidates who are often underrepresented in teaching. OSPI is doing bits and pieces of family/community engagement, but we MUST do better, which is why I will push to re-fund the Center for the Improvement of Student Learning (CISL) as the point for this work at the state level. There must be a more concerted effort to help schools develop strong social-emotional learning processes. I would like to see us consider more robust student support programming, which would include training in trauma-informed practice and restorative justice.
Finally, one of my platform pieces is that we must create a smooth pipeline for students from early childhood to post-secondary. We need to help connect students of color connect to why they are in school, which will require providing opportunities for students with many more experiences and opportunities outside of what is readily available to them. I believe what is critical in the early years is for ALL students to see themselves in a variety of careers. Currently, students of color see so few opportunities for the future. They don't see themselves as doctors or lawyers or engineers or business owners or mechanics or artists or cinematographers. They see examples of careers in entertainment and athletics and possibly examples in the service industry. I think one things we can do MUCH better is helping students of color see why school is critical to opening doors of opportunity.
How does “EduTech” – the increasing use of technology and learning-based instruction – fit into your view about the future of education?
I believe our students need to have access to technology and know how to use a variety of technologies effectively. I believe technology can be used to effectively engage students and provide students with opportunities to pursue their own individual interests, pursue activities above and beyond what is occurring in a classroom or for remediation.
However, I do not believe technology should ever become the primary "teacher" or vehicle for student learning. I believe there MUST BE balance. There are some who would suggest that differentiation should occur primarily by having students on one-to-one technology. That would not be my suggestion. I believe students need the personalized attention of teachers and practice with social engagement among their peers.
Technology is just a piece of the answer.
What would be the first thing you would seek to change/establish if you become State Superintendent of Public Instruction?
I believe my first job in office will be to reframe how the public sees and experiences OSPI. For the most part, people have no idea what OSPI does. For those who interact with OSPI (typically only school district personnel), they typically do so for compliance purposes. I would like to first create a vision/mission/strategic plan that would help the community understand the work of OSPI and also acknowledge the ways in which the agency can be more than a financial pass-through and compliance agency but a support arm for school districts and communities that are striving to improve their practice to better serve our most marginalized students.