(Fun fact; there are at least three SPS high school principals who graduated from their schools - Howard, Martin Floe at Ingraham and Kevin Wynkoop at Ballard.) The focus of the piece seemed to be how Principal Howard has a "microcosm" of the city to manage.
To note, it appears to me that the Times is on a careful campaign to try to point out the many ways that SPS is not bridging the opportunity gap. I'm pretty sure this is in anticipation of figuring out a way - next legislative session - for the Mayor to take over some or all of the district. I'm not kidding.
"Howard has decided that public education was never built for kids with needs like Robert Robinson's." (Robinson was a former student at Garfield from foster care who was exited from Garfield for cutting classes and detention. He enrolled at Intergency, then Cleveland and was shot to death last fall on Beacon Hill.)
I would agree with Mr. Howard on that point but I would also point out that is an extreme case. Most kids in less-than-suitable foster care or who are homeless are likely to create the greatest challenges for any school.
The Mayor said he plans to end homelessness among Seattle children before the end of the year so let's see him get that done first before he tries anything else.
Upfront I will say, I only know Garfield from the outside. I have talked with many Garfield parents thru the years, reported on good and bad issues at Garfield but I cannot say that I "know" the school. Here's what I do know.
Because of its central location, it is diverse. The Times reports it has 1581students (I think only Roosevelt is larger but those numbers go back and forth between the two schools.) The population is 28% black, 38% white, 8% Latino, 19% Asian, 6% two or more races. It has 36%F/RL and 6% Sped. (It is lower/near same than the district average in most categories except number of black and Asian students and number of Sped students.)
It has a storied history, graduating Quincy Jones and Jimi Hendrick. It houses one of two HCC cohorts for high school. It is one of two SPS high schools with a nationally known jazz band. It has one of the strongest black student clubs I have ever seen. Many of the students and teachers are fanatically loyal to the school which, I believe, makes for a stronger school. I believe that no matter the background, most who go/work at Garfield, are proud to be there.
SPS Climate Survey toplines (Spring 2015)
57% of student respondents believe that the learning environment is favorable which is the same as the overall SPS score.
64% of student respondents believe it is a healthy community (caring and positive)
56% of student respondents believe it is a safe environment. What's interesting here is that more black/Latino students feel this way than white/Asian students.
72% of student respondents believe they have identity and belonging at school.
(But on "district satisfaction" on website/communications, for all respondents, it's 28%. Ouch. As well, for staff on "instructional practice," they give Garfield 47% while the average is 62%. In contrast, for "professional culture" for staff, they give Garfield 63%. I wonder about the difference between instructional practice and professional culture.)
The Times points out that at Garfield there is a "black balcony" and a "white hallway" above that floor and that issue seems to be the focus of the article really and Mr. Howard's personal struggles to find the best way forward for black students.
He says when he got to Garfield that a white parent told him he was "just a caretaker." This interesting comment is followed by his statement that "My moral objective as a black man is to protect these kids, but school-district policy, in many cases, is to expel them. So where does that leave me?" The article points out that out of 24 students "permanently removed" from Garfield, 21 were black.
I'm not sure what the point was to link the white parent's comment to Mr. Howard but it certainly sets the tone for the article. Given my experience and knowledge of high school parents, they do tend to let any new principal know that they will be active and involved. This goes from Rainier Beach to Roosevelt. I think the parent's comment was presented in a blunt and rude fashion but I'm not sure I would link it to not supporting all kids in the school.
Coming in, he had thought his main job was to try to maintain "harmony" (or keep the peace). He first tried a bullhorn in the halls but now walks the school. The article points out that his interactions with black students "are far more personal" than with white students. (Hard to know, based on one reporter's walk-thru at the school, if this is totally accurate.)
The article goes on to explain that Mr. Howard had a meeting at Garfield with a presiding judge from King County Superior Court, who wanted to talk to Howard and his assistant principals about the outcomes of strict discipline policies. Howard had also participated in a principals' trip to Monroe Correctional Facility three years prior.
Then we get to the hazing problem in 2013 which I wrote about extensively. Garfield has always had an autumn hazing tradition for freshman. (To note, hazing is not permitted under SPS policy.) But, because it was off-campus, there was little that Howard could do. This particular time there was activity at the Arboretum and Howard was hearing about it from frantic students. He went, with some school safety officers, to the scene and found drunken freshman who were covered in condiments being hit by seniors. When Howard tried to stop it, a few of the seniors called him the "n" word and threw eggs. (Many of the seniors had on masks.)
"When he attempted to suspend a dozen students, all white, their families threatened legal action."
According to the article, after this incident, Mr. Howard felt very defeated.
And there you have it in a nutshell. While black families could plead for leniency (even as Howard pointed out district policies on discipline to those students' parents), white parents used the power of legal action to prevent those policies being enforced on their students.
Howard says he is going to get rid of most out-of-school suspensions and, oddly, cut honors history and English for 9th grade. The Times says, "chipping away at a system that traditionally tracks gifted middler schoolers - mostly white - into Garfield's Advanced Placement curriculum." I'm thinking that Howard may be doing this to funnel those dollars towards more tutors/trauma-informed instruction. But the Times released this article just as school is out and I have no real way to ask Mr. Howard. (I'll give it a shot, though.)
One false move on his part was to try to form a "de facto academy for African-American boys," by assigning all of them to a black counselor, Ray Willis. Parents were apparently unhappy and that idea went out the window.
But I applaud Mr. Howard for seeing one of the clear issues:
"What resources are coming with this?" (the Mayor's ed summit and the district's initiative for African-American boys.) "It's great to get pepole to the table, all fired up, but then it's 'We have no money.' Really? Then why are we having this conversation?"
Interestingly, the article drops this tidbit - that Principal Howard is working with a leadership coach, Dan Kaufman. It sounds great if Howard is getting benefit from the coaching but I would like to know how much this costs and if all principals are getting this coaching.
The article does have one sentence that I want to speak to and I hope middle and high school parents listen.
"Before that day, the youth had no significant discipline problems at Garfield. Nor did his father receive any word that four police officers had been summoned to take him away."This is a tactic that I have heard about at Garfield but ALSO at many other schools. Your child gets brought in to talk about a behavior issue and lo and behold, there's a police officer. Not a school resource officer, but SPD.
Stop for a minute. You are 15 years old and there's administrators and a cop in the room, staring you down. You'd be intimidated and scared.
PLEASE, tell your child that if they are confronted with this situation, do NOT talk. Tell them to ask for parents/guardian and REFUSE to answer any questions. It is their legal right. (Under 16, no kid should be questioned by a cop without a parent.) There are no "casual" conversations with police officers. All can be revealed but with a parent and lawyer present.