Joe was a cherished presence at Garfield High School for almost 30 years where he worked as a teachers assistant in the gym (basketball, volleyball and wrestling), with the kids in detention and the incoming freshmen in the Bridge Program. His warmth and kindness touched so many.I went to this meeting truly not knowing what to expect.
First, kudos to the 100 Black Parents group. The meeting was well-organized, they had water available (it was hot - I brought a hand fan), a well-thought out agenda and even a door prize.
The meeting was led by Anita Adams
Second, the meeting featured an elder, Mrs Horton, who said that they wouldn't have a prayer as they normally would to start the meeting (I think in deference to the topic and that not all in the meeting might be members of Mt. Zion Baptist) but we had a moment of silence. At the end, she said, "Amen." I had to smile.
Mr. Salisbury set a very easy-going tone and said that sometimes African-American parents can be "reactive" but that this meeting was about being "proactive." (Editor's clarification 8/20 from Mr. Salisbury; "parents" (all) can be reactive and that 100 black parents is proactive in our collective requests and responses.")He said he wanted the focus on not what has or had not happened but what their group wants to see happen.
He also said that while the teachers were here to talk about Honors for All, that issue was not the only one their group was interested in hearing about and presenting to Mr. Howard.
We all introduced ourselves. Most were parents of current or incoming Garfield students (and many were Garfield grads themselves.) Keisha Scarlett, who used to be the principal at South Shore but is now a principal leadership coach for the district, said that her child was 5th on the waitlist for Garfield. She stated that Rainier Beach had no music program and she wanted her child to have access to Garfield's. Besides myself, there was a reporter from the Times.
Then five teachers, a woman and 4 men, all white, got up to talk about Honors for All. I did learn some things that were not clear to me before about Honors for All.
1. I didn't know that there were far more Honors classes than Gen Ed for 9th grade History. Given the skew, I'm surprised that this idea didn't seem to come up sooner.
2. Also, the way they have been structuring those Honors classes is to take AP History and divide it into two years. So the 9th grade Honors for All for history will be the AP History curriculum. Students can then decide in 10th grade if they want to continue onto AP History. (They also mentioned that the 9th grade History is ancient history to 1400 and AP History is then 1400 to the end of the Cold War.) They said this two-year timeline gives them flexibility in their teaching.
3. They said that some of the focus for Honors for All in LA and History will be on critical reading and writing skills.
4. One teacher mentioned that some kids came into Garfield from feeder schools and some were better prepared than others. I took that to mean that some of the middle schools were better preparing kids but I was not able to ask which schools they meant.
5. It was also mentioned that Gen Ed classes were not working "to the highest caliber" which would beg of question of why not? What was holding teachers back from working to that standard?
6. One teacher mentioned that Honors for All could end kids of color from feeling "tokenized" in AP classes and "that won't happen" in Honors for All. He said they would feel "socially competent."
I also didn't get to ask why none of this was told to parents, either incoming or current, before the Times article came out.
One teacher made a statement that Mr. Howard echoed later on which may be a key factor - he said that he had come to Garfield seven years prior and had been hoping for change but now they had the "right" teachers. Now having a unified teaching corps along with a principal that supports them is a VERY good thing. But I have to wonder who came and who left in order to make that so. (We were told "all" the History/LA teachers were united on Honors for All but I'm not sure if they meant the 9th grade teachers or across all grade levels.) There was a sense of vagueness in their answers to several questions.
There was a lot of talk, from both Howard and the teachers, about honoring learning styles. Apparently, the work will have enough variety to serve different skills like speaking, art, reading, etc.
A parent asked a question about grading and the response was yes, it will be "fluid." But there was no explanation of what that meant.
One key to helping kids who may struggle in these classes is that the teachers create a "summary" of the readings for students in order to allow them to know what the reading is about (and then, I guess, read for content.) The teacher said that this allows for "self-advocacy" about what they need in class. Another teacher said some kids liked the summaries and other students said they were "useless."
The teachers are also going to be available for study sessions after school (and maybe before school.)
Parent Q&A to teachers
- there was a question about white male dominant history being taught. The teachers said that they do not teach from a Europe-centric view. The book they use is not the one that most schools use for AP History.
It was noted by one teacher that the book has "difficult, dense text" more akin to a freshman in college than freshman in high school. But, he said it was also "wonderfully narrative" and allows teachers to "loop back to our own time" and therefore, make it more relevant to students.
- it was asked about how kids might feel better about themselves if they were struggling. One teacher said they would work to make sure that doesn't happen and for parents to "hold us accountable."
- The teachers also stated that they had taken a 3-day workshop from a GHS teacher (who is now leaving GHS) and learning about "status in the room." He said if a student comes in with lower skills, that's just one part and not allow "people who have been more able like a sports star" because "intentional activities will reverse those measure of status and allow students to grow as human beings."
He said there would be group work but that even if one person finishes in three minutes, the activity would not be finished until all in the group had their questions answered and work done. (I have to wonder how that will play out in real time.)
He said he was "profoundly changed by the spirit of the work" at the workshop. He also said it is a "framework of humanity that will annoy a lot of people but in a good way." He also said "conflict is part of the learning process."
- The teachers said "de-tracking" is not new and it's a well-studied change. They also said the research shows that students are better off in a heterogeneous classroom - "the lower track do better and the higher track still learn but don't fall down." Again, no chance to ask them to parse that thought out. What I have read in my research is that most students do better except for high achievers whose growth is small to none. It's not that those students don't learn; they don't learn to the highest level they could.
- One parent had an interesting question - he asked if previous generations had more historical background than now? The teachers seemed to think that high school kids today are much more savvy about media shaping a topic or the vagaries of textbooks as well as issues of sexual identity, race, wealth,etc. That is probably a true statement by the teacher but I'm not sure it answered that question. I always find it troubling when people give answers but not directly to the question.
One parent suggested a column in the student newspaper on "experiences in different classes." That might be good but I don't think some teachers would like what they read nor would most students want to sign their names to their comments.
Then we came to the presentation of the top 7 items from the parent survey by 100 Black Parents (although they are still accepting survey results.) You'll recall there were 17 items to be rank ordered. Here's the top seven (but it was not indicated if this is the rank order of voting):
1. increase of black students in Honors and AP classes
2. greater support system for students who struggle academically (community tutoring, administrator and counseling office open/drop in hours)
3. no more suspensions - address disproportionate rate of suspensions (via restorative justice, moratorium, Saturday school, etc.)
4. additional college/career tracking opportunities
5. enforcement and accountability of teachers' timely input of grades/assignments in the Source/Schoology)
6. mandatory race and justice questions in each interview (I assume for teachers)
7. teacher engagement with parents.
The 100 Black Parents leaders said that they want "to help Principal Howard shape policies that will benefit African-American students." They said these were not an ultimatum and they want to support the school. But they said it is a line in the sand and they would like to see some action.
It was also stated that there were two PTSA members (not sure if they meant Board members as in PTSA leadership) in the room and they wanted to hold them "accountable for money raised and used." That kind of passed by the room but it's a pretty big statement.
Principal Howard's remarks I found almost like listening to a political speech. After the fairly direct hand-off from Mr. Salisbury on the top seven items that the 100 Black Parents group would like addressed, Howard promptly ignored them in his remarks. (I did not stay for the last Q&A with him.)
He repeatedly said he did NOT have the answers, nor did anyone including Seattle Schools. (He had nothing good to say about SPS.)
He also repeatedly spoke of different learning styles and addressing those but said nothing specific.
He said, "Our job is to give kids experiences like taking honors or an AP class" but wondered where the resources were for that.
To parents' roles, he said, "Garfield is not a drop-off dry-cleaner for parents to just drop off their kids to learn." He said if parents don't participate in education, "learning stops. I expect you to be involved."
He said that going to a PTA meeting is "entry level" for parenting at school. He said the second tier is to be in the classroom and to keep up with The Source and Powerschools and their students' assignments. Oddly, he didn't not address the one item on the top seven list that he could have which is why teachers don't put in grades/assignments more often. They don't have to per the CBA. The last time I looked, it was only mandated for twice a quarter. That's something he could have told parents but perhaps he thought if he encouraged them to ask teachers, the teachers might use it more often.
He said the third tier was keeping track of who your child is hanging out with. (There was a suggestion that when your child is out and about to ask your child to take and send a photo of who they are with.)
He then went off on a tangent about teens and phone use and keeping track of students.
He said that Garfield was "open and receptive to your ideas."
He then went on a track about the way some kids are at school "I'm up here and you're down there." "I have a polo on and you don't."
He said he liked the 100 Black Parents platform. But then spoke of "General PTSA" and that he has never seen more than three black parents at any PTSA meeting in 11 years. He said there is a "white PTSA", a "Latino PTSA" and now 100 Black Parents. He said GHS is three schools in one.
The last thing I heard before I left was a statement from him about the Central District gentrifying.
About the teachers - it all sounds good but it is an exceptionally heavy lift. That neither Principal Howard nor the teachers talked about how the resources will be found for all this work is worrisome. I will also say after listening intently last night that this might be about academics but it appears to also be equal parts social justice because the teachers and the principal believe the mix will help the overall school atmosphere. I think they want a more heterogeneous look to their classrooms to help kids learn more from each other but also to see if the mix will have better academic outcomes for all.
But that it is not being openly acknowledged as that is troubling to me. If it's about social justice, say so.
About Mr. Howard - He acknowledges that he has been a principal at Garfield for a long time and yet, has no explanation about why it has taken this long to conceive and push for change. From the Times' article, he sounds like he has nibbled around the edges but maybe, with a teaching corps behind him, he is ready for a real bite.
In short, this truly is a big experiment to see if all the pieces will line up (and there seem to be a lot of them.)
I think between Garfield and Thurgood Marshall, the district is tacitly pushing these ideas. I think this is the district's experimentation but, if it doesn't work, one that they can blame on the schools.
At the same time, the district seems to be systematically taking apart Advanced Learning in other ways. I see very little senior management or open Board support for this program.
Lastly, per "family engagement," I call BS because neither Garfield nor the district have done any outreach on these changes in any real way. The district wants to say one thing and do another as it suits them but, just like a saloon door, policies can swing both ways and sometimes hit you in the face.