Many of you have asked this question as have Board directors. What is the list of things that principals can decide on for their communities and what is mandated district work that all schools have to do? It is unclear and I firmly believe this is hurting the district and undermining the work at schools. Parents need to know this information.
There is quite a swirl of stories and rumor around what is happening at Emerson Elementary. Here are some things that are clear:
- Emerson has had four principals in the last five years. That is never a good sign.
- The current principal, Andrea Drake, just started last year. Dr. Drake is African-American.
- Emerson had been on the OSPI "state priority" school list last school year with continuing low test scores. During the summer, that was dropped to a "superintendent intervention school" which allowed the district to tell teachers that there would be a new course of action at Emerson that they could stay and follow or take a job somewhere else in the district. My understanding is that nearly 80% of teachers chose to leave.
- The replacement teachers were hired knowing Dr. Drake's vision for the school.
- The principal, Dr. Andrea Drake, was put on paid leave two weeks ago but will be back at Emerson next week. Apparently no explanation was given to teachers or parents.
- There was a disciplinary investigation of Dr. Drake by the district and she was found to have used bullying/intimidation against a staff member. (To note, the staff member was non-white.)
- There is now a second staff complaint against Dr. Drake being investigated, saying that she was using bullying/intimidation against another non-white staff member, alleging she asked about the person's age and when he/she might retire.
- Director Patu says that she frequently asks the region's Executive Director, Kelly Aramaki, about schools in her region. She says he raised no issues to her about Emerson. But apparently after Drake was put on paid administrative leave, some staff met with Patu and she was surprised to learn Drake was going to be removed.
- Update: the number of certificated staff requesting to be opted out of Emerson for school year 2016-2017 is 13.
- The main issue - An academically troubled school now beset by division among parents and teachers by a principal who appears to have staff troubles. None of this is good for kids.
- Update: during school year 2015-2016, Dr. Drake had teachers sign a "commitment contract" and said it was "designed by the district." Instead, for school year 2016-2017, teachers would have work with the SEA and Dr. Drake to "collaboratively build a new 'Emerson Commitment Contract.'" I again state - this is similar to what KIPP charter schools do. (But also, if a school is in "intervention" status, staff have to "commit to make any adjustment in curriculum or instruction as required by SPS and reflected in the CSIP adopted for the following academic year.")
- Dr. Drake is apparently molding Emerson somewhat like KIPP charter schools with uniform attire enforcement (the uniforms were already a part of Emerson) and attendance enforcement. It seems these two issues got a lot of play at the Curriculum night over academics which made some parents unhappy.
- It was noted elsewhere by a teacher that Dr. Drake made it clear they would only be doing reading, writing and math. When teachers pointed out that science had to be taught as it would be tested, she reluctantly agreed.
- There is an accusation that Dr. Drake refused to allow staff members to wear BLM t-shirts on Unity Day. I am told by a staff member who says that is not true.
- It seems there was an incident of a white Emerson parent putting hands on a black Emerson student and that SPS security was called in to investigate. I am awaiting more information on this issue.
-There are some who say Dr. Drake has mismanaged "levy" funds (which I assume to be Families&Education funds from the City.) I am awaiting more information on that issue.
- Update: There was some kind of teacher survey that the district did at Emerson last year. In the free response about what would make feedback more helpful, the main word used was "negative" feedback and not constructive/positive feedback. There were words like "critical, cold, harsh, scolding, demeaning" used. As well, there was concern over trust issues, and unprofessional talk in front of teachers,. Only one person on staff did not feel one of these emotions: anxious, stressed, overwhelmed.
- Update: there seems to have been a decision made last year that the school would use no parent volunteers.
Given what I see, the issue seems to be more around leadership style than racial issues. But I'm not in the school so I cannot say for certain.
The Seattle Weekly had coverage of this story (much better than the Times) and said this:
Either way, the Seattle/King County NAACP has gotten involved, raising concern that Drake is not being treated the same way that white district administrators are when parents launch complaints against them. For example, another Seattle elementary administrator has been under investigation for some time for allegations of racism made by 75 parents of color, says Rita Green, education chair of the Seattle/King County NAACP. That person has not been suspended. “You tell me there’s not a problem with that. It’s part of the current and ongoing institutional racism within Seattle Public Schools. If you are parents of color, you are viewed as lesser. That’s why your complaints don’t get as much priority.”Of course, this could be a separate issue from what is currently happening with Dr. Drake. I am going to contact Ms. Green to get clarity on what other school she is referencing.
There is to be a rally for Dr. Drake outside of JSCEE before the Board meeting. I don't see any Emerson folks on the speaker list.