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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Race and Seattle Public Schools

Chris Drape, the principal of The New School, wrote a thought-provoking letter to the Seattle Times' Danny Westneat in repsonse to recent pieces in that paper about race and Seattle Public Schools. (School district's obsessed with race and Hundreds respond to race column)

The letter was posted on the
CPPS Yahoo group and is republished here with Chris Drape's permission.

Mr. Westneat-

Your Sunday, April 1, commentary very effectively lays out the understanding/communication gap we have when we try to examine and talk deeply about race - though not necessarily in the ways you intend. I hear your, "I don't get it," and I agree with you. That's the point. When we don't get it, how do we as white people work on "getting it?" What I see in your column is what I all-too-often see in our Seattle white community - wanting to have the conversation take place on our terms - wanting to see solutions that work on our terms.

The issues plaguing Madrona are a microcosm of the situation throughout the south-end of Seattle, and yet Madrona's dynamics are also exaggerated because of the economic divide that parallels the racial make-up of the school. You talk of being sad to leave Madrona, but I believe the Madrona situation represents a fundamental divide in how we look at school. There is a big difference between wanting to join and invest in your neighborhood school so that it works for your kids (or the way you envision "working" to look), and wanting to invest in your neighborhood school for justice's sake.

Too often, the effort of white people desiring to invest in their neighborhood school ends up feeling (to those who have been at that neighborhood school) like a "takeover." Takeovers beget demands for gardens, and art and music. Takeovers are all about what is best for MY child. Takeovers make it necessary to demand meetings with the principal about why your ideas are not being implemented.

Justice means joining a school community and saying, "Where can I help?", and then listening for the answer. Justice is about doing what is right, and not what I want. Justice means working together to mend inequities. Justice is about seeing the larger picture, and understanding that everyone will need to make some sacrifices. For people of color that means the real and tangible sacrifice to yet again be patient and bear with us well-meaning white people who think we understand when we don't. For white people, that means setting aside our own agendas, and understanding that education is about a lot more than advanced academics and enrichment activities.

Danny... your kids are going to be fine. They are going to be fine whether they are at McGilvra, or whether they are in the 31-student first grade class, without recess, music or foreign language at Madrona. They are going to be fine, and still get a fine education, and get into a good college, and get a good job... and be fine. But your child and your family have missed a grand opportunity to step across the racial divide that you speak of, and develop deep, meaningful relationships with people of color. I'm not saying that you can't or don't do that in your life, but walking away from Madrona is walking away from a prime opportunity to be about the work of JUSTICE.

I would argue that THE single best thing you could do for your children IS to join a school community as a commitment to justice, recognizing that it will cost you and your family in some of the traditional sense, but pay off hugely in how it helps your children to see their connection and contribution to their world. Your way seems to tell them that if things don't work like you want them to, leave and go somewhere where you can get what you want. That is the essence of unexamined white privilege. We want to define the terms of how things should look, and if we feel like that is not happening, we make enough noise until it changes to our satisfaction, or we leave and go someplace where it is already working like that.

In my own family's experience, this willingness to see school as a place to connect with our neighbors has been no sacrifice at all, but a blessed opportunity to open our life to a richer understanding of justice, standing with our neighbors, and becoming the family we would like to be. My wife and I have lived, worked, gone to church, raised our kids, and invested deeply in South Seattle (Rainier Valley) for almost 20 years now. We have learned many things, especially how much we still have to learn, about the dynamics of race and the work of reconciliation. I have been a teacher (Rainier Beach) and am now a principal (The New School @ South Shore) - and every day I recognize that issues of race are alive, real, painful, complicated... and a critically important focus. We have made choices about school for our boys that seem to many of our friends as not in their best academic interests... but our commitment is to be in places where our family experiences the injustices that plague our system - so that the needs of our neighbors become our needs as well, and we co-advocate for viable solutions.

Our oldest son attended Hawthorne Elementary, and is now a sixth grader at Aki Kurose Middle School - and in both places he has almost always been the only white student in his class. We chose Hawthorne because it was one of our neighborhood schools, and because it had a predominantly black student body. Our church, Emerald City Bible Fellowship in Rainier Beach, is a community committed to racial reconciliation. We went into Hawthorne determined to just be a part of the school, and vowed not to ask for anything special for our child. Our son thrived at Hawthorne, and his academic needs were met without our having to demand special rograms. He had exceptional teachers who made sure he was challenged, and he always had a group of peers that excelled along with him. Most importantly our son developed deep friendships and relationships that will serve him throughout his life. He is an ambassador and a bridge builder. For families that choose academics or enrichment "extras" over everything else, we wonder if they understand what they are giving up.

This letter is way too long to make the paper, but this conversation is so rich and so complex and so important, that I cannot keep this simple and short. I am more interested in having a real dialogue with you than having my words published. I would love to talk more. Too often this dialogue becomes disconnected written statements to each other, without the chance to meaningfully engage beyond that. Fundamentally, this work, like the work of education itself, is about relationships. If we don't seek to establish and deepen relationships, then we are going nowhere. So perhaps you'd be willing to start one with another white guy who cares deeply about the kids and families of Seattle. If so, give me a call.

In This Work Together, Chris Drape

PS - I couldn't end this letter without challenging you on your portrayal of the work of the district regarding race as "obsessive," race-baiting," "declaring summer break racist," "blathering about the racial unfairness of summer break." Your framing of the situation reflects your vantage point, your paradigm, which you are choosing NOT to leave (in fact you have retreated more deeply into the heart of it at McGilvra). Example... a quote from your column: "As part of its well-meaning quest to rid itself of racism, the Seattle School District has found a program it considers racially biased. Summer break. The 10-week hiatus from school is institutionally racist, said the district's Equity and Race Relations director.

"No, she did not. Let me quote from the March 29 article "Racism tough to tackle - or even talk about - for Seattle School Board" to which you refer: "In a recent interview, Hollins said she found no specific district program that was institutionally racist, but she pointed to summer break as an example of systemic problems. Initially devised to allow school-age children to help with farm labor, summer break serves no educational purpose, Hollins said, and the disruption puts struggling students further behind."

Hollins did not call summer break racist - she said it is educationally unnecessary, and puts struggling students further behind. We know from looking at our district statistics that a disproportionate number of "struggling students" are students of color. This is a "systemic problem" as Hollins states, but for you to say that she has declared summer break racist is a destructive simplification of a complex problem. You misrepresent her point in order to make yours, and that is a dangerous form of "journalism" that I would hope you would be compelled to move beyond.

55 comments:

Anonymous said...

Danny Westneat had referenced this letter in his column. This letter evoked many reactions in me. Inflamatory? Thought-provoking? Patronizing? Maddening? Sensitive?

I'd like to think there's a middle ground here. That a new group of people - any people - coming into a school would be welcomed for new energy and new ideas. That they would be sensitive to what is already happening and not try to push too hard, too soon. That they would not be viewed with suspicion. That they wouldn't have to take a litmus test about whether they belong at that school. And, that any good PTA president and principal would do everything they could do unite people and find common ground.

Mr. Drape (a hard-working, good-hearted principal) seems to believe that everyone should be looking at enrolling their child in school from a neighborhood? community? global? perspective. That's a pretty big job for a parent enrolling a kid for kindergarten.

"Danny, your kids are going to be fine." Wow, that's quite a statement when you consider that it is unlikely Mr. Drape and Mr. Westneat are best friends. To make the connection that because Mr. Westneat is white that everything will turn out fine for his kids is its own racism.

He says, "education is about a lot more than advanced academics and enrichment activities." It is. Kindergarten is very much about learning a schedule, a rhythm to the day, sharing, waiting your turn. School is about getting along, respecting others, being civil (even if you do not like someone). But education is also about more than getting along and learning the 3Rs. It is about art and music and the gifts they bring to our lives and how much we learn from them about history and math. And advanced academics is NOT about enrichment or "extras" - it is about meeting the academic needs of children whereever they go to school. Again, I find that sad that he would believe no child at his school would ever need or be capable of doing advanced work. That's how I read that statement.

I am also greatly disturbed that Mr. Drape would fault Mr. Westneat and the other parents and their parenting. Mr. Westneat (and many of the other families) CHOSE to go to their neighborhood school. Period. Some of them may have come in and come on too strong, too fast. Fault them for being overzealous and less than thoughtful. But don't call them racists. But to say it's all about agendas... everybody, in some way, has an agenda. To paint it as "we're going to take over this school" is unfair. To say those parents, after years of being there (they didn't just pop in one year and run off), are setting a bad example for their kids by trying to bring some new ideas to their child's school is also unfair.

I don't for one minute believe there is equity in our district, our city or our country. But I am also not going to give up on trying to make my school great for all the kids in it, working with my PTA towards that goal, and yes, I wish it for my own child as well.

Anonymous said...

Well said (anonymous)

Jet City mom said...

The City of seattle has
29.9% citizens of color ( reading the file from SPS)

48.3% of SPS Principals/vice Principals are minority
27.9% administrators- minority
20.2% teachers of color
18.0% certificated staff of color
45.8 all classified staff of color

To me- it looks like minorites- are fairly well represented in the district, particulary when it is considered that they make up 15.8% of the labor pool.
( again using SPS data)

I will probably get jumped on- but if the city was 71% minority & almost 50 % of principals were white, we would be wondering why.

Im wondering why if the city is 70% white, why the district has only 42% of those kids- is it because of attitudes like Mr Drape's?

Staff of color, is represented in the district at a higher level than they are represented in the work force and in the community.

Yet the district is judged to be racist? ( of course don't forget that only whites are racist- according to the district)

My daughter is white- she had an IEP that wasn't followed- even though I contacted the teachers- the principal, the district and even the OSPI repeatedly.

I eventually had to hire tutors, that I could not afford, to help her, since she wasn't getting the help at school. ( Tutors are also cheaper than lawyers & a tutor was needed urgently)

The attitude I received was "she would be fine".
It is pretty pervasive.

I tried to find other programs besides IDEA, to help her in school. Very, few programs exist to help kids who need help but are not minority, extremely low income or both.

We make less per hour than a teacher- but we were just supposed to pay for continued tutoring I guess to help her get to grade level.
I guess thats what is meant by OK

Anonymous said...

At about the time Mr. Drape took over the New School, I happened to talk with him briefly one day. At the time I'd lived near Rainier Beach for many years. He and his staff were nice, but the level of political correctness I heard from Mr. Drape astonished me.

All my life I've lived in southeast and southwest Seattle, among all kinds of people, and worked with all kinds of people. On a lot of issues I probably have more in common with the average lower middle class black, Hispanic, Asian or white man than I do with Mr. Drape. And I just don't see the good sense in his adopting so closely the persecuted mindset of part of one ethnic group, to the exclusion of a big chunk of the Madrona neighborhood.

I don't know anything about Madrona except what I've read from both sides. But judging by that, I wouldn't want to see Madrona stay the way it is. That school is for the neighborhood, and the neighborhood has both black and white kids and cultures in it. Anyone running a school there should set out to educate all of those kids, and encompass everyone.

Being too dogmatic and insistent about racial ideology hasn't worked anywhere else I've seen. Being tolerant, warm and welcoming of people and all of their wild crackpot opinions seems to work better.

That doesn't mean giving up and offering a lowest common denominator education. It does mean having a working sense of humor, and staying far away from saying to people that there's one only right way of thought about racial issues and here it is.

That's the undertone of what I heard Chris Drape telling me during those few minutes years ago. I'd guess from a lifetime in the South End that lots of people have opinions that he'd probably refuse to accept, from every direction and lots of different ethnic groups, not just black and white. Mr. Drape seems to me to be way too willing to turn even fairly reasonable people like me away.

I think you should only have to meet a very, very low bar of PC correctness to send your kid to the local public school. Like, you are not actively out there causing race riots. Everything else should be under the tent or the umbrella, and the people in charge should at least try to smile upon everybody and spread their arms wide and provide something worthwhile for every kid.

OK, I don't have a great education myself and I'm no school expert, but that has worked well in other walks of life. People running a public school just shouldn't feel comfortable telling a good number of neighborhood parents who are interested and involved in the school to pack up their kids and go away over an ideologically racial unwillingness to include them.

It's hard to see how the Madrona school administrators, and their supervisors if they effectively even have any in the school district, could let this get so polarized. How could a principal get so far off track like that with no one to straighten it out before things got so far out of hand and blew up in the newspapers? Where was the friendly word in her ear early on, about how not to get in a mess like this?

And where is any genuine willingness to meet the educational needs of more of the neighborhood kids now? It looks like much of the neighborhood won't touch that school with the way the present administration running it.

And here's our Mr. Drape making excuses for why that's just peachy, and better that way. Well, it's not. No wonder fewer people keep their kids in Seattle public schools when unnecessary polarization, and driving good but different people out, is officially viewed as not only justifiable but necessary and better.

Anonymous said...

O.M.G. To be admonished by someone for wanting to do what is right for your own child? To be admonished for this, by an alleged educator? I am here on this planet to see that my child's needs are met, without harming others, needless to say. To hear someone -- an alleged professional educator! -- suggest that it is better, for some nebulous greater good, to NOT do what is right for your own child, is simply shocking. No wonder it's been such a fight to get our child appropriately served in Seattle Public Schools. We stay in SPS despite this kind of idiocy, though sometimes I wonder why.

Anonymous said...

My comments in response to this letter....

Mr Drape says..."wanting to have the conversation take place on our terms - wanting to see solutions that work on our terms."

I ask, who doesn't?? Who doesn't want solutions that work on our terms? Who doesn't want a conversation to take place on our terms? Do African American's not want this too???

Mr Drape says...."There is a big difference between wanting to join and invest in your neighborhood school so that it works for your kids"

I ask, who doesn't want a school to work for their kid? As the demographics of the neighborhood change, so too will the offerings and environment at that school. It will change to meet the needs of the demographic that it serves, whatever that demographic may be.

Mr. Drape says..."invest in your neighborhood school for justice's sake."

Invest in your school for justices sake before or after you have school age children. While you have children in school, you are their only advocate, and it is your responsibility to invest in their school not only for "justices" sake, but also for your childs sake sake.

Mr. Drape says......"Takeovers beget demands for gardens, and art and music."

This sentence is the most puzzling. Wanting to enrich and enhance the offerings at a school, is seen as a take over?? The philosophy of not offering enrichment, recess etc., in an effort to provide more academics is proven to be ineffective. It doesn't work.

Mr. Drape says..."Your way seems to tell them that if things don't work like you want them to, leave and go somewhere where you can get what you want."

Don't we want to teach our children to be able to leave a situation that is not good for them??? Don't we want a battered wife to have the courage to leave a bad situation? When our child is approached with drugs, don't we want them to say no??? Don't we Vote against an official that we don't want to be in office? There are times in life when we have to stick with it, but there are also times when you have to walk away.

Mr. Drape says..."We want to define the terms of how things should look"

Don't we all?? Don't black people want this to?? Isn't that why the principal wrote that letter at Madrona??

Anonymous said...

I wonder what the Ethics Committee would have to say about a public offical (Mr. Drape) publicizing his racial views???

Is it just me or is this uncomfortable??

If I were at The New School and had tremendously differing views from Mr. Drape (my right) I might feel very uncomfotable in that environment. Should one be made to feel unwelcomed or ucomfortable because they do not agree with the administrations view on race??

Beth Bakeman said...

I posted Chris Drape's letter here because I think it is full of interesting discussion points, and I believe continuing the conversation about race in public schools is a good idea.

I don't agree with everything he says, but I believe Chris raises important issues and shares a deeply-held personal perspective honestly. I have tremendous respect for people who are willing to do that.

I'm hoping to have Chris respond to some of the comments on this blog.

Let's keep the conversation honest and respectful.

Jet City mom said...

As a frequent volunteer in SPS ( tutor/PTA chair/field trip driver chaperone/fundraiser& event planner/advisor/coach), I have the view of not turning anyone away, or make them uncomfortable because the way they could give time didn't fit my parameters.

I recognized that some parts of the community were less likely to volunteer, but as I knew what a difference it made to the kids, to see parents in the school, I encouraged everyone to find a place where they could participate.

However- although the school was 53% caucasian- we had great difficulty getting parents in during the day or after school for PTA meetings, that were not white.

We requested help from staff, especially minority staff to help recruit more parents.
It wasn't effective.

We held PTA meetings in different neighborhoods to help parents who didn't have transportation.

We couldn't remember where the meeting was going to be held & the same people came- few new people.
We offered food and childcare at meetings- same people

I would genuinely welcome any suggestions to increase parent involvement .

Those of you who already volunteer in the schools know that what you get back from the kids- is more than what you give-but truly I am at a loss how to get more parents & guardians- big brothers and grandparents- involved.

Anonymous said...

I don't see the reality of what Mr. Drape is describing, and I strongly suspect this is the very same mindset Greg Thornton was talking about: the constant focus on race. Because I don't see what Drape sees, does this make me racist in his eyes, or the eyes of SPS?

The idea that the school district is a racist institution is what encourages Drape to defend the belief in acts of racism where they don't exist. To focus on a self-created problems would allow this institution to ignore other related conflicts that need their attention. How many years of remediation are required before the adults in this system leave their baggage at the door?

Our children have to move forward, and it won't be happening while self-serving beliefs are allowed to set the agenda. SPS has promised to close the achievement gap for how many years, after how many studies, and how many dollars spent?

I understand what Drape is saying about the offer to help. Is it a question or a demand? There's the genuine offer to help, there's everyday rudeness and privileged cluelessness, and there's the aggressive baiting of the mysterious e-mail (i.e. enjoy the Mayflower) followed by the anxiety of seeing white people.

Can Drape speak to this reality, or is he operating in a vacuum encouraged by the narrowly focused culture of SPS? WenG

Anonymous said...

This is such a complicated issue. I have mixed feelings on the subject, having worked with students, teachers, administrators and parents in both public and private schools. My own feelings aside, a couple of things have struck me about this post and particular situation.

1) It seems to me that the conversation on this blog surrounding issues of race in SPS is dominated by white voices. Chris Drape, who speaks so passionately on this topic, is white. Many of the loudest voices in this dialogue about what should be done to address race in SPS are also white. Where is the diversity of voices on this topic?

I find it very interesting that white people feel comfortable speaking on behalf of blacks and other non-whites about what constitutes justice, a good education, fair treatment, etc. for these minority groups -- and I'm talking about the Chris Drapes of the world as well as those on the opposite end of the spectrum. Mr. Drape is certainly qualified as an educator to discuss education, but I would like to hear how white parents' actions are perceived "from the horse's mouth," as it were. There is a lot of discussion about how pushy white people are about "what they want." There is also a lot of speculation about what non-whites want (or don't want). What do some of these parents want? Can we hear from them about whether gardens, art and music are indeed seen as exclusively "white" or as part of a "takeover"?

Finally, if we did hear from some of these folks, how could we possibly assume they are representative of an entire group? Wouldn't that kind of assumption be racist as well?

2) I just finished re-reading an old Seattle Times article (11/06) article which discusses the impressive work Chris Drape's school has done with its highly diverse group of students. According to the article, "On top of the public money every Seattle elementary school gets, an anonymous donor more than doubles The New School's funding every year. This year, it got $1.5 million. The school spends it on small class sizes, teacher training, music and art."

Here is an example of a wealthy white person generously donating money to a primarily non-white school to enrich its programs with music, art, small class sizes, and other "extras." Is this an example of white privilege? Is this type of funding viewed as a "takeover"?

As a parent and educator, I struggle with these issues on a daily basis. Can anyone help me answer these questions?

Anonymous said...

I find it hard when white people speak on behalf of "white people", and black people speak on behalf of "black people". We are all so different, with different philosophies, approaches, and beliefs that even within our own race we could not begin to speak on behalf of one another. Mr. Drape is white and so am I, but we have very very different views, so when I speak on behalf of "white people", am I speaking on behalf of Mr. Drae,myself, or the other millions???

Anonymous said...

Why does Mr. Drape only address the behavior or Mr. Westneat and white families in general? Why does he not address the unwelcoming behavior of the existing community, and administration? The Mayflower comment etc.?? This article seems so one sided.

When you look at race relations, you have to look at the big picture, all sides, and break it down.

Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous's post: "I find it hard when white people speak on behalf of "white people", and black people speak on behalf of "black people"."

I don't think any one person can speak on behalf of an entire racial or ethnic group. However, I WOULD like to hear more on the topic of race, privelege, and justice from the different racial and ethnic groups represented in Seattle Public Schools - not just from white people.

Beth Bakeman said...

Anonymous said "However, I WOULD like to hear more on the topic of race, privelege, and justice from the different racial and ethnic groups represented in Seattle Public Schools - not just from white people."

I agree. A comment and a question.

Comment: It's impossible to know what someone's racial and ethnic background is from a blog comment unless the person tells you.

Question: How do we engage people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds in discussions around race, privilege, and justice? The district tried the "Courageous Conversations" series. Did anyone attend? I haven't heard positive things about them, but I did not attend.

Jet City mom said...

Id like to see more minorities running for school board-

I certainly see lots of minority community members at school board meetings- but I would encourage them to continue advocating for more participation in the school buildings- not just showing up at meetings when you have an item on the agenda. ( although I would love to see that from the entire city- not just from "ethnic" communities)

One thing I would like to see in district- is something other large districts in other cities do.
Acknowledge where a family is "mixed", and recognize the richness of that background.

In my circle of friends and aquaintances in this city, many are caucasian, but are married to those of another ethnic group or have children of another ethnic group.

Some school communities are welcoming of families and students from mixed backgrounds. Others are not so much. I also am not speaking of "white- northend" schools.

Mixed families are here to stay. Why can't we move into the new millenium and embrace them?

Anonymous said...

"I would genuinely welcome any suggestions to increase parent involvement .

Those of you who already volunteer in the schools know that what you get back from the kids- is more than what you give-but truly I am at a loss how to get more parents & guardians- big brothers and grandparents- involved. "

My son attends Stevens Elementary on North Capitol Hill. I find Stevens an example of a school that is 'working' with a diversified population.

American Indian 1%
Asian 12%
African American 16%
Latino 18%
Caucasian 53%
It also has an ELL program.

I think it's not race, but economics that determine who is involved and what they want. We have african american families that regularly attend the PTA meetings and are very involved, but they are in the same socio-economic status of the predominantly white participants.

For those that have time to volunteer and an eagerness to help the less-advantaged in the school succeed, here are a few suggestions that I think are working well at Stevens. The PTA is the primary source of funding for these programs.

1) After-school tutoring program. Stevens recruits parents and students from UW to tutor several days a week. Many of the students that need remedial work attend twice a week. I know of students that have been brought up to grade-level and outgrown the need for tutoring.

2) After-school enrichment classes with free bus transportation home afterwards and scholarships. Each trimester the school offers about 10 classes that meet once a week. Examples include Math Club, Chess Club, Theater, Writing, Cooking, Soccer, Art.

3) Volunteer as a coach for a community sports team and recruit minority players. It helps the students integrate socially and allows them to succeed and show their strengths to their peers.

4) Volunteer to tutor in class. Stevens usually has one parent helping in every math class in the early grades.

5) Celebrate diversity. Stevens biggest event of the year is Multi-Cultural Night.

Anonymous said...

I hope the Mr. Drape comments on this blog as well. I hope I misunderstood his letter. I hope this because I was so angered by it.

I don’t know Danny Westenet’s children and I have never been to Madrona, but how could anyone pat him on the head and say “your kids are going to be fine”? Many, many kids are not fine in an educational environment like Madrona’s. And, based on what is happening at the school, it doesn’t look like it is working for most of the kids there. Let’s remember how this story came about in the first place. Madrona is not doing a good job. The first Seattle Times article about this controversy stated “(Families) were allowed to transfer under a federal law that requires the district to offer them a choice of other Seattle schools because so few of Madrona's fourth-graders passed the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) last year.” (see “Race, class splinter Madrona School” March 28)

As for the later passage “Your way seems to tell them that if things don't work like you want them to, leave and go somewhere where you can get what you want. That is the essence of unexamined white privilege…” Keep in mind that the majority of the families who transferred out of Madrona were non-white. Were they exercising their white privilege? Or, was it okay for black families to seek a better education for their children and an environment where their ideas would be welcomed.

Here’s what I don’t get. Mr. Drape is principal of the New School, which also serves a diverse population and apparently much more successfully (if you look at test scores and student retention). Take a look at the website. Look at the list of curriculum enhancements (Yoga, Meditation, Dance, Music, Visual Arts, Drama, to name a few). Now, we all know that we can’t really compare New School results to other schools because they are extremely lucky to have additional private funding. However, isn’t part of the point to use this school as a model to find out what works? Why isn’t Mr. Drape telling the administration and remaining parents at Madrona to be more accepting of recess and Art in school instead of criticizing those parents who want it?

One final quote from Mr. Drape’s letter: “Takeovers make it necessary to demand meetings with the principal about why your ideas are not being implemented.” I just don’t get this at all. Of course a parent should ask to speak to the principal in this situation. These people raised money and invested time. The principal has a right to reject ideas, but he or she has a duty to explain that. And often it will be in a 1:1 meeting.

Danny Westenet had a duty to fight for what his kids needed and those needs very likely included art and recess. And if the majority of parents wanted to keep the school art and recess free, he had a duty to move his children to a different school. One that welcomed his comments and contributions.

-Gabrielle

Anonymous said...

Has anyone thought to compare the atmosphere at Madrona with that at the former M L King School? I always thought the principal there, Barry Dorsey, was a good man who did really well with kids, even when he didn't have very much to work with.

Most of the M L King kids went to Madrona instead of T T Minor, which people say is because the district didn't understand what people would do when they closed M L King.

I say M L King and Barry Dorsey gave kids a better place to learn in than Madrona and its principal does. The size of the building, not enough acreage to make 4 acres be damned. That was a better school than Madrona.

If there was any justice in anything at the school district, the M L King School would have lived on, and Dorsey would have been given a chance to do his good work with the same kids and more. Madrona, a crummier school, would have been renamed M L King and Dorsey could have done good things with it then.

A school is the people, not the building. M L King was a good school and Madrona wasn't in the same league and still isn't. None of this mess needed to happen. None of it.

Anonymous said...

Let me add one more thing. Change that to the present tense. No sense leaving it at spilled milk and complaining about missed opportunities in hindsight. We still have opportunities.

The M L King School could live on, and Dorsey could be given a chance to do his good work with the same kids and more. Madrona, a crummier school, could be renamed M L King and Dorsey could do good things with it now.

I like that much better.

Charlie Mas said...

I think it would be of great benefit to the District if The Option Program, now at Seward, moved into the Madrona building and the building at Seward were re-purposed as a neighborhood K-8.

That would add neighborhood school capacity in a part of the cluster that needs it and remove capacity in a part of the cluster that has excess.

Both buildings are K-8s of similar vintage. While TOPS has a greater enrollment, a significant part of that enrollment is neighborhood kids from Eastlake who chose it as their neighborhood school.

This doesn't really have anything to do with Mr. Drape's letter. I already wrote a response to it on the CEASE Yahoo Discussion Group. This was in response to the idea about re-opening ML King in lieu of Madrona.

Anonymous said...

Charlie, would you mind posting your response to the letter here as well? I'm interested to hear your thoughts.

Charlie Mas said...

Oops! It wasn't the CEASE discussion group but the CPPS one. I had it mixed up - a sure sign that I participate in too many blogs.

Chris Drape's letter was posted to the Board by Sheri Toussaint, which is why you'll see references to her in my posting.

Some folks might not recognize me in this post, so I feel a need to explain. It would have been easy for me to dispute with Mr. Drape - that was my first impulse. Instead, I made an effort not to argue. Instead I tried to understand his perspective.

I haven't sworn off arguing entirely; I just chose a different path in this case.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=


Re: Madrona school


I am very grateful to Mr. Drape for this explanation.

I am equally grateful to Ms Toussaint for sharing it with us. I don't believe that the conversation has moved on. I think we'll be having this conversation for some years to come.

I am one of those who really didn't see Mr. Drape's perspective
before, and I don't believe that I see it all as clearly as I would
like to even now. It's going to take some time to soak in.

The part of Mr. Drape's letter which resonated best with me was the contrast between the two styles of volunteerism. One in which the volunteers brings their own ideas and agenda to the school, and the other in which the volunteers asks "Where can I help?" and allows the school to set the priorities and agenda. I get that. The volunteer should be working for the best interests of the community as a whole rather than their own narrow interests. The volunteer needs to trust that their interests will be factored into the community's priorities, and those who set the community's priorities need to keep
that trust.

There are some things that Mr. Drape writes that fill me with the
impulse to dispute - it is a strong impulse in me. I am struggling to let go of that impulse because it isn't right for me to decide to reject or dispute his ideas without even really understanding them, and I clearly don't understand them.

It is proving more difficult for me to let go of my perspective on
these matters because I am filled with fear that, despite Mr. Drape's
assurances, my children might not "be fine" and "still get a fine
education" if they are not appropriately challenged. That wasn't my experience and it isn't my observation. I see a lot of children coming out of the public schools in South Seattle who are not, in fact, just fine, and who did not get a fine education. Sorry, that came dangerously close to an argument, but it wasn't intended to dispute Mr. Drape's contention - it was intended to explain my difficulty in accepting it.

I will say that the situation at Madrona does represent, as Mr. Drape writes, a microcosm of a larger situation. How is it that the volunteers and the school administration couldn't have a conversation and reach a mutual perspective? How is it that the school leadership couldn't say "Thank you for your energy and willingness to help. The garden (or world language classes, or art or music) sounds lovely, but what we could really use is..." Or, if they did say that, how is it that the volunteer families didn't hear it? Why was there no dialog that lead to a resolution and shared understanding? Those families had been at Madrona for four or five years - and they still didn't have enough of a relationship to have that conversation? It makes me shake my head.

Part of the trouble I'm having is understanding what Mr. Drape means
when he writes about justice. For me, the word justice is closely
tied with right and wrong, with rights and responsibilities, with
morality, legality, and rules. I don't think that's what the word
means to him. The way he writes about justice, it sounds to me like
community. I don't think it is unjust to pursue your individual goals and do what you feel will be most beneficial for you and yours, but I certainly agree that we need to strike a balance between pursuing our individual interests and working in service to the larger community. When I replace the word "justice" with the word "community" in his letter I totally get it, but I fear that what I'm getting is not, in fact, what he is saying. This is part of the struggle I'm having.

It pains me a bit to learn from Mr. Drape that my personal struggle
to understand constitutes someone else's sacrifice. I actually had
the self-serving belief that my struggle to understand represented
someone else's success.

I think that we should work towards schools where no family feels they have had to give up those elements of the school experience that are critical to them, be it community or academic achievement. Clearly that is Mr. Drape's goal as well.

I believe that this is a critical issue in Seattle Public Schools, perhaps THE critical issue. Many of us approach schools as a consumer, not as a partner. The District and the schools certainly encourage that perspective in a number of ways. School choice, for example, is all about finding a school that works for our children, not about finding a community where we want to contribute. The District's slogan is all about academic achievement, with no mention of any other goal. Schools often relay the message "If this school doesn't work for you and your children, then choose another", sometimes in those very words.

I will ponder Mr. Drape's words and look for his model where I can.

Again, my thanks to him and to Ms Toussaint.

Anonymous said...

"Your kids are going to be fine". I too, have heard that from several district principals, administrators and teachers regarding school issues. Then I really had my eyes opened by an administrator who told me flat out, "look, if you are a middle class family, we are not going to try to reach you - your kids are going to be fine." They probably are, but that is not the point.

Now I hear Mr Drape spouting the same party line.

No wonder so few families in Seattle choose public school, with attitudes like this. No challenge, no art, no standards, no discipline, because that would not contribute to closing the achievement gap, and "your kids are going to be fine".

Thanks for the enlightenment Mr. Drape.
Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Sounds like Chris Drape needs to examine his own motivations as well - does he not see the irony in his choices? His letter struck me as very odd - he seems to be oblivious to the fact that he is living his life as a controlled sociological experiment, down among the real folks.

Sounds kind of....racist to me.

Anonymous said...

Here's what I wonder: Madrona K-8 is on the federal failing schools list. Forty kids have transferred out of Madrona, mid-year, since November. Think about that -- how much you try as parents to avoid having to leave a school mid-year. We had 31 kids in a class. And yet the takeaway topic of all that for many employees of the Seattle School District, including Chris Drape, is to focus on the skin color and privilege of a newspaper columnist. Amazing.
I like Chris Drape. I've met him and respect him. But I found his letter to be patronizing, and I told him so. Still, patronizing is no big deal. What really troubles me is his letter just enables the divisive leadership at that school and in the district to go on being divisive.
And I still don't see what's wrong with trying to lower the class size when there are 31 kids in each class with no teacher's aide. We're supposed to sit there and take it, in the name of social justice? I don't think so. If that's being too demanding, then guilty as charged.
Anyway, I wish we could get back to talking about what really matters a LOT more than my hue. Which is: How can we get every school in the central cluster to have 21 kids in a class? Can we figure out how to have music and foreign language and the arts and also pass the WASL? I think there might be some common goals there, no matter the color of our skins or the sizes of our bank accounts.

Anonymous said...

"Our son thrived at Hawthorne, and his academic needs were met without our having to demand special [p]rograms. He had exceptional teachers who made sure he was challenged, and he always had a group of peers that excelled along with him."

If every parent could describe their child's experience in school using the same words Mr Drape uses to characterize his family's experience, we wouldn't be blogging here today.

Perhaps the most telling word in the quote is exceptional. By calling these particular teachers exceptional, Mr Drape seems to be acknowledging that this is not the norm. Isn't that the heart of the matter? How can we make the parent satisfaction that comes from seeing one's child thrive in school the norm?

Anonymous said...

Danny,

You need to get out more - here in the Northwest cluster we haven't seen 21 kids in a class at some schools for 4 years...how I would love to see that lost small class size. 28-32 is the norm. How I would love to see small class sizes again. How I would love to see equal funding for ALL schools in the district.

Mr. Drape needs to look at how many kids are busing OUT of the south end, before he starts casting stones at the north.

Anonymous said...

Lots of schools in the south end have low class sizes. I'm not sure why Madrona has large class sizes. MLK had 14 or 15, and by many accounts an excellent school. High Point has 14 or 15 now. John Muir is pretty small too. Why didn't some people pick MLK? Hint. It wasn't because of the class size. South-enders get preference-choice in QA/Magnolia. We have very large class sizes. Every morning the buses from the south end roll in, and the white kids roll on out. It isn't for the small classes.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the thoughtful responses to my letter. Clearly it struck a chord, and the letter seems to have taken on a life of its own. I hope you understand that one letter cannot communicate clearly all of the nuances and complexities of the issue of race in schools, and particularly the role of white families in schools where they are in the minority. I still have much to learn in this dialogue, and appreciate the chance to step more deeply into this conversation with others.

I am not going to attempt to answer every post questioning my motivations or sanity, although my wife would like me to. :-) But I would like to clarify a number of things:

I wrote my letter to Danny Westneat as a parent, not as a principal. While I realize that I can’t separate myself from my role as principal of The New School, I was speaking as a parent in the district, and not on the district’s behalf.

I realize that some of what I say creates tension and confusion. Why am I, as a white man, so interested (some have said obsessed) with race? Our family has a deep commitment to racial reconciliation, which we were called to 20 years ago during a life-changing summer in Mississippi, and is intimately connected to issues of faith. This focus informs the decisions we have made, and make on a regular basis – where we live, where we send our kids to school, the careers we have chosen, where we eat, who our friends are. We look at most everything through that lens. Will this or that decision get us closer to or further away from the ideal of racial reconciliation? We are constantly asking ourselves how we can cross boundaries, and we know from experience that this takes effort and intentionality. I recognize that our focus does not resonate with all.

I am absolutely NOT saying that academics and the arts don’t matter – this is perhaps the most misunderstood piece of my letter. One posting wrote “But education is also about art and music and the gifts they bring to our lives and how much we learn from them about history and math.” Absolutely! I deeply believe that we MUST challenge each student to the highest, and immerse them in a radically rich learning world that nurtures their soul (and includes art and music and community adventures, and much more). Obviously, as so many of you have pointed out, at The New School we have the great blessing of having so much – a diverse student body, in small classes, achieving at high levels, as well as many enrichment extras. My heart’s desire is that every school would have what The New School has. Academic success and rich, engaging experiences for all students is THE point.

Before this posting, I have not participated in general online conversations such as this. Email and blogs are not the best way to communicate about such a complex and important topic. But I did want to respond and clarify somewhat, as some have requested. I invite any of you to talk with me in person. The way we get a better sense of who we are in this is when we commit relationally to each other, when we step into the questions with people who think differently than we do. I am sincere when I say I would rather talk with those of you who challenge my thoughts here, than just read your anonymous critiques. Let me know if you would be willing, and we can make some time.

Danny Westneat and I met and talked, and I appreciate his willingness to take the time to do so. I hope that our conversation can continue, as I believe our dialogue has moved us both – helped to make us both better parents, educators, community members. I don’t presume to have this all figured out, and I welcome the opportunity to deepen my understanding.

chrisdrape@hotmail.com

Jet City mom said...

Mr Drape, I appreciate your response-
however I would also restate that when you know your kids are going to be fine-
it permits much more flexibility, than for instance for my family-
our economic and educational status did not suggest that our kids were going to be "fine" and (in fact although my 11th gd daughter has never gotten below a B in math, she has taken the WASL in 4th, in 7th & in 10th and has not scored above a 1), when you do not "know" that they will be fine- you do whatever you can to increase the chances.

Whether that be taking out loans for tutoring, reducing your work hours so you can volunteer in the school every week, or even changing schools.

I have done all three, and it wasn't until that we changed schools, that she regained some of her earlier confidence in herself and began to be interested in her education again.

Anonymous said...

We are a bi-racial family, a caucasian mom and african american dad. We look at our children simply as children. Not bi-racial children, not minority children, not disadvantaged children. We do not make race a focus in our every day lives and it certainly does not drive the decisions that we make. Our children's individuality and needs drive our decisions. We choose schools that best fit their academic and social needs, and one that is in our neighborhood. When we go shopping, we shop at the most convenient stores with the most competetive prices, and when we choose a church, we choose one of our faith and in our neighborhood. We do not look at, or choose by, the color of the people who attend. That would be racist. We have always taught our children not to look at the color of peoples skin, and that everybody is equal. I fell that when we over emphasize race we teach our children to be aware of, look for, and react to the color of a persons skin, and this is counter productive to our philosophy that ALL people are equal, all people should be treated kindly, fairly, and respectfully. Our children do not feel different, stigmatized, or or disatvantaged. Our children know that if you work hard, you can achieve anything that you want in life. They have great role models... a black grandfather, who grew up in the deep south (Tennessee), who, in the 60's earned a PHD, who retired as the president of a prestigeous university. And, a black grandmother, who earned a masters degree, who taught school in her younger years, and ran her own very successful business later in life. Race is what you make it.

Anonymous said...

To whomever wrote that I need to get out more -- Of course I know that 21 kids is not the normal class size. I am saying: Why do we accept that? Why do we put up with 28 to 32? It's the easiest thing in the world to lower the class size. It just takes money. Chris Drape knows, he's got a charitable foundation giving his school $1.5 million a year, and so The New School has 18 or 19 kids in a class. That's what I wanted at Madrona. I want what Drape's got. The city just announced it is going to spend $240 million on bike lanes around the city. Bike lanes! Can you imagine what that kind of coin would do to the class sizes in Seattle? I guess what I'm really saying is: When someone says "your kids are going to be fine," it's implicit that "fine" should be good enough. What ever happened to excellence? It seems like we're willing to settle for "OK" or "fine," and that's not OK with me. This entire debate seems like slogging toward mediocrity ...

Anonymous said...

Charlie, if the smaller Madrona building were to house TOPS, it would have to be only part of TOPS. And then there's the TOPS waiting list. And then there are all the Madrona area parents who would like to send their kids to a good local school if that happened.

So if the Madrona building were to house a TOPS program, wouldn't it make sense for it to be TOPS II? That would relieve the overcrowding at TOPS I, and let more of the neighborhood kids in Eastlake attend TOPS I. It would provide a better location for some of the current all-city TOPS students who live further from Seward, and attract Madrona parents who want arts, music and other extras.

It would plant an established, successful and popular program in an area where there's a demand for an excellent mixed-race school, to replace the existing and not very successful model of a largely one-race school.

The likely result would be enough growth in TOPS II to fill the building within a few years, while giving TOPS I some breathing room even with more local Eastlake students.

It would also take Madrona, and its place on the federal failing schools list, out of the equation. If half of Madrona's students opted to stay for TOPS II, along with the white Madrona area kids, the other half of Madrona's current population would boost the enrollment of nearby underenrolled schools that otherwise might be consolidated sometime in the next few years. The closest is Leschi, which has a better educational program than Madrona but only 227 students.

Does this make sense to anyone else?

Melissa Westbrook said...

They would be pretty close to each but they would be centrally located which seems fair. You'd get some unhappiness over TOPS I having the better building for art (they have a pretty tremendous art studio) and there isn't one at Madrona. But overall I think it could make a lot of people happy just not the people at TOPS or Madrona. (Wait, I could be wrong about TOPS and shouldn't lump them together but the parents are very bonded to that building and I have reason to think that most of them would be unhappy if they had to change building i.e. for transportation costs some would go to Madrona TOPS.)

BUT 2 major problems:
1) Madrona seems to be actively resisting change. They don't even want a art class,no less a whole arts focus. They seem to want to (and rightly so because of their lack of AYP) focus on academics. Their community might say no.

2) When was the last time the district listened and acted upon a parent initiated idea? It's not coming to me as to which was the last alternative created (ORCA? AAA?)but I just never see much enthusiasm on the part of staff for any non-staff idea (unless it's a foundation and even TAF is not getting good support for their initiative at AAA). Part of that is that they may have plans that we know nothing about. It's kind of a "in time, all will be revealed" thing. So if they said no, you'd never really know if it was a rational reason or just that they had other plans.

Anonymous said...

Though I could talk endlessly about the individual points of Chris Drape's letter, I want to address the tone of some of the posts.

Some of the comments that have followed have been downright mean. And as a person of color who is already timid about publicly voicing my thoughts on race, those comments certainly steer me clear of saying anything now, even anonymously. Beth, I'm not saying that this is your fault, I just wish there were a way to tell people that digging in their heels doesn't allow some (or at least me) to feel safe to post.

I read this blog religiously every single day. Perhaps if I'm not posting on the site, it's because I am afraid of the backlash I will receive. I am not as brave as Chris Drape.

Anonymous said...

To the above poster, I would encourage you to post your opinion and thoughts. I have read in several posts that people with more people of color would contribute. Don't be timid. Talking about differences is what brings understanding, and change. This blog is for everyone, and though opinions may differ, we all gain a broader perspective by reading what one another have to say.

Anonymous said...

Melissa W.,

When you said "the community" is against change (like Madrona/TOPS II), I wonder if the kids somehow had a chance to have a taste of life at TOPS (the existing one) for a couple months and try it out, if they and their parents would still be so negative about the possibility? Maybe the kids would like that change more than the school administration? TOPS is a school that parents really like and it's less than half white (if that matters). Also I think there are a lot of kids around, sitting next to your kid, who "get it" about the math, etc. And they can have a little joy from time to time with the art and music and all.

If Madrona made a change like that then it's pretty much a sure thing that some kids would have to go to T. T. Minor because Madrona would be very popular. You know, that might give T. T. Minor a chance to do something good too.

What's wrong with Minor also becoming a second site of some other proven, popular type of program that parents also like, and would probably draw in a more diversified population that would be not be only the lowest? The district originally wanted to close Minor. No, keep it open and do something better with it. The same with every one of the Central Area schools. Don't close a single one of them.

Leschi could expand and still be a traditional school but larger. There is no reason not to have lots of good schools in that area, with good school choices for more of the kids than have really good choices now.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 5:20 I would really like to hear your opinions. I have found this discussion fascinating. I would like to learn more about how we should deal with racial issues in the district.

Is it best to teach our children to relate to people of different races by identifying their friend with a certain race and using specific communication structures we have taught them for relating to that race? I think I am hearing that idea in some posts here. (Perhaps I'm misinterpreting?) Though I don't know how that accomodates cultural differences or friends of mixed race or adoptive families. That is a new idea for me. I was taught more of the 'treat everyone as individuals, be color blind' ideology. Perhaps Chris can comment on this further?

Was it really a racial issue that parents at Madrona did not want art & music for their children? Or was it a racial issue that some parents wanted the principal to talk with them or to volunteer in the school? Can those opinions be generalized to all people of one race? I obviously don't understand the problems at that school. But if it is a model of our problems at SPS then I would really like to understand better.

Closing the achievement gap is a whole other topic. For another post perhaps.

This can certainly be an uncomfortable discussion. But so necessary, don't you think?

I look forward to reading & learning more.

Andrew Kwatinetz said...

I agree with many of the objections to Chris Drape's letter, and yet I still found his points thought-provoking and compelling. I hope we can continue this dialog in a constructive, safe & welcoming way. There is no easy solution, and it will take a lot of listening to arrive at solutions that unite rather than divide us. There is an opportunity for the new superintendent to change the district's strategy in this area, but it won't be easy without support from the community.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I'd like to give the new superintendent the benefit of the doubt but since we view (and hire) people based on their background and past statements, I'm not sure Dr. Goodloe-Johnson is going to be especially neutral or forward-thinking on this issue. I hope I'm wrong.

LKV said...

Why is it so difficult to comprehend that when Chris Drape says your children will be fine, he means it in the best way, in the way my pediatrician and my child's teacher tell me regularly my child will be fine because I'm educated, I'm caring, I have a job that doesn't require too many hours away from home, my husband and I live together, our income places us in the middle class range. Our home is stable.
For all of these reasons my child will be fine. Every person on this blog has a child who will be just fine. Not perfect. Life isn't a guarantee for you. But your child will be fine. Because they have you.
Forgive the principal if he wants to turn his attention to other children who lack the things I listed above. Without intervention of the government kind, they will not be fine.

Regarding the way parents were treated at Madrona, those parents came to school with demands in hand - fine, I did the same thing - but when their demands weren't met, they threatened to take their marbles and go home. How is that looking out for everyone in the community?
Moreover, if every well-intended parent demanded a meeting with the principal to discuss whatver volunteer idea popped up in their minds, when would your principal deal with academic and administrative duties? Ditto district employees running a $460 million institution? Do you really want them on speed dial?

Finally, why did this issue become about race? Because anyone on this blog with half a brain knows that economic and educational opportunities, the very things that make up privilege in this country, remain largely set along racial lines. Got a free afternoon? Ponder the many federal studies done on discrimination in housing, mortgage and car loans and employment. Racism is real. That doesn't mean folks on here are racist. Nor does it mean my child is automatically in peril because he's African-American. But it does mean we have to understand what the struggle is about in this country - it is about the justice Mr. Drape references. You don't have to join the struggle. No one obligates you to give a d---- about any child but your own. But don't play dumb and pretend you don't know what principals like Drape are struggling to achieve every single day.

Anonymous said...

This sounds like the debate about Holly Park vs. New Holly. There were arguments on both sides then as there are now. But when some black Madrona families wanted a better education for their kids and left under NCLB, that only made it more concentrated with the lower socioeconomic strata of the neighborhood. Danny Westneat was only a sideshow in this. Many other kids from the Central Area attend schools out of the Central Area, all over town for the same reason.

Meanwhile more of the neediest kids are crowded into a local school with the least of everything. Why does this segregation process continue to worsen, and well meaning people cheer it on with the best of intentions?

Chris Drape is probably a wonderful man but somebody at the school district should think about reversing the increased degree of school segregation at Madrona by race and poverty. That doesn't mean talking about justice in the most sensitive, caring terms while watching a school like Madrona get more poor and unbalanced. It means changing the schools to avoid following on a long slow well meaning path to the public school equivalent of Cabrini Green, etc.

Charlie Mas said...

Karen said...
"Regarding the way parents were treated at Madrona, those parents came to school with demands in hand - fine, I did the same thing - but when their demands weren't met, they threatened to take their marbles and go home.

What evidence is there of "demands"? I never heard anyone with first-hand knowledge of the situation use that word.

As for threatening to "take their marbles and go home", these people were active in that school and community for four or five years. It's not like they gave it one chance and then took off. In addition, the vast majority of them are still there. Most of the families that left were not White families. Did the non-White families also "take their marbles and go home" when they didn't get their way?

How is that looking out for everyone in the community?

These folks were part of that community, weren't they? Shouldn't their preferences be considered on an equal footing with someone else's? If not, why not? Isn't there an implied give-and-take as part of being in a community? Where and how were their preferences being honored?

Moreover, if every well-intended parent demanded a meeting with the principal to discuss whatver volunteer idea popped up in their minds, when would your principal deal with academic and administrative duties?

There's that word "demand" again. Where did that come from? How many people asked for how many meetings? Was it everytime an idea "popped up in their minds"? I do expect to be able to have a meeting with the principal of my child's school, either one-on-one or within the context of a larger meeting, and I would expect to get answers to my questions and concerns. I don't think that's unreasonable at all.

Ditto district employees running a $460 million institution? Do you really want them on speed dial?

Again, I expect answers to my questions. I don't think it's an unreasonable expectation. Not when the District staff is going on and on about family and community engagement. Not when a have a letter from the Superintendent in which he talks about the critical importance of dialog between the district and students' families.

Finally, the reason that all of our kids will be fine is, in part, because we advocate for them. If we give up that advocacy, then they won't be fine. Let's face facts: the majority of the students coming out of Madrona - and most other South Seattle public schools - are NOT fine. If a family were to leave their child in one of those schools and not be involved, not support their child, and not advocate for their child, what reason do we have to believe that the child's school experience and academic outcome will be any different from the experience and outcome for all of those other students in those schools?

So don't tell me that I don't have to advocate for my children because my children "will be fine". My children will be fine because I advocate for them.

My advocacy isn't limited to my kids and neither were these families at Madrona. They were advocating for ALL of the students at the school. Do you think that only their children were allowed into the garden or into the art, music, and world language instruction? Do you think that only their children would be in the smaller classes?

They were looking out for everyone in the community.

It would be nice to say that there are no villians here, just a lot of well-intentioned people working at cross-purposes, but that's not the case. There are bad actors. The principal and the assistant principal have a responsibility to serve the students who enroll, not just the ones they want to serve. They have a duty to create a welcoming culture for all families, not just those of the right complexion. Encouraging positive family engagement is part of their job, so they are supposed to be able to handle and direct volunteers.

The one and only person who made race-based statements that I saw was the former principal, Rickie Malone, who said that having White people in and around the school made her uncomfortable.

I'm not saying that there isn't racism. I'm not saying that affluence and income are highly correlated with race. I'm not denying any of that. But this wasn't and didn't have to be about race until the school administration made it about race.

Anonymous said...

Hmmmmmm. So some parents at Madrona were angry because despite all of their well-intentioned efforts the school didn't work for their child.
I know quite a few parents in the district who believe the district's advanced programs do not work for their child. Shall we demand they change those programs so they are more inclusive and reach more than just a few select students?
Flip the Madrona argument on its head and its what families of color have been saying about APP/Spectrum.

O

Charlie Mas said...

O wrote:

"Hmmmmmm. So some parents at Madrona were angry because despite all of their well-intentioned efforts the school didn't work for their child."

Let's be careful with this statement. "some parents" - how many families left? Was it ten?

"angry because... the school didn't work for their child" First, were they angry? Or were they disappointed? Does Danny Westneat sound angry to you? Not to me. And what inspired the feeling? Was it for that reason, or was it because they were made to feel unwelcome?

"I know quite a few parents in the district who believe the district's advanced programs do not work for their child. Shall we demand they change those programs so they are more inclusive and reach more than just a few select students?"

Yes. We should. Many do. Again, is "demand" the right word? The calls for greater inclusion have resulted in, first, the ALOs with no district-imposed eligibility requirements, and with Spectrum Young Scholars, with no academic achievement eligibility criteria. Personally, I advocate self-selection for Spectrum (along with a rigorous exit process).

"Flip the Madrona argument on its head and its what families of color have been saying about APP/Spectrum." Is this what they have been saying? Have they been saying that they can't get people to talk to them? Have they been saying that they are part of the community but their preferences are not being addressed? Have they been saying that specific District personnel have been working to exclude them from participation? I don't think so.

On the contrary, the District actively works on outreach to under-represented communities. The District is bending over backwards to try to get find these students and get their families to participate in the programs. It is, in fact, exactly the opposite of the Madrona situation.

I suggest that you pick another metaphor.

Anonymous said...

Charlie,
I can tell you from first-hand experience that the District has not/ does not bend over backwards to serve my African American child. There have been MANY district personnel who have outright ignored my e-mails and phone calls: individual teachers, principals, school board members and ALO District staff. I gave up; it wasn't worth it me. I knew where I stood, and I resigned myself to that place.

I've heard you discuss your "triumph" of stalling the plan for APP to split between Washington and Hamilton. I must say that I was all for the move. But you don't know me, so how would you know my thoughts? I have felt so uncomfortable in the APP parent community that I avoid it altogether. That is not to say that I don't care or am not informed. I just can't bring myself to be an agitator, especially when I know I am so sorely outnumbered. I don't want to be known as the angry woman of color. It's just easier for me to bury my head and go about my day.

I don't know what happened at Madrona. I wasn't there.

But I have been at schools where there are educated, middle-class families UNINTENTIONALLY make lower class families feel like an underclass. I have been ignored at PTA meetings. When I tried to share my views, I get the "isn't she cute" smile. When I want to volunteer in the classroom, the other mothers look down on me because I'm only there occasionally and probably caught the bus to get there. When I volunteer at a field trip the other moms sit and chat, even making coffee dates in front of me. When I try to break in, I am met with a lukewarm response.

All I wanted was to be in relationship with those women, many of whom are twenty years my senior. I would go home and cry wondering what I had done wrong. I wondered why they didn't like me and why they didn't want to know me. I was never their peer, though for many years I longed to be (I have since given up and am so much happier with my life).

I wonder if at Madrona, the poorer families felt the same way. I wonder what would have happened if those families with resources had first spent their time getting to know ALL of the families like mine. And I don't mean in a light, PC, Seattle chill way, but in the way that Chris Drape talks about -- meaningful, long-term relationships.

I know that if I were at Madrona and families had gotten to know me, (genuinely because of my own value and not to promote a cause) I would have joined the cause. If we had playdates and coffee dates and they invited me to dinner like they did the other moms, I would have fought on their behalf as well.

Imagine the power that a united parent community could have had! But a community MUST start and end with relationships and not an agenda.

Anonymous said...

"I just can't bring myself to be an agitator, especially when I know I am so sorely outnumbered."

"I don't want to be known as the angry woman of color."

Is it possible that you just want to be accepted, and don't want to be known as the angry woman?? Why do you make it about race??? I think that you are blaming race because you feel excluded in this community. If you want to be invited to coffee, you don't have to change the color of your skin, you have to get to know the group. That means you have to catch the bus more often so you get to know the parents well enough that they will want to sit down and chat with you over coffee. Why would they invite someone to coffee whom they did not know very well??? Don't get me wrong, I totally understand if you can't catch that bus more often, but if you don't, don't expect to just walk in when you do and have parents run up to you and invite you to coffee. They won't know you well enough. I am white, and we started a new school this year, where many established parents made many lunch and coffee dates around me. I wasn't offended, nor did I look to the color of my skin an excuse. I realized that they just don't know me very well yet (they will soon). Don't use race as a crutch. Look at the big picture and try to figure out why things are really happening, before you jump to the conclsion it is because you are of color. My kids are bi-racial, so believe me I say that I am not a racist. I am telling you the same thing that I tell my kids.

Anonymous said...

A number of you have asked to hear from a person of color on this blog. Now a brave woman steps forward to share her experience as a non-white, non-middle-class parent in a diverse school in Seattle, and the only response so far is, "Well, your perceptions are wrong." Can you see why this blog is not a "safe" place for all posters?

I, for one, am going to pay more attention the next time I chaperone a field trip. I am going to look up and take notice of the other parents who came along, and I am going to go out of my way to say hello and introduce myself.

Anonymous said...

Will you go out of your way only for people of color? Or for any new parents that may be joining you?

That is my point. Is it really about color/race?? I personally don't think race has anything to do with it. When you say you will look up and take notice of the other parents chaperoning the field trip, I am assuming that you mean any and all parents.

Now for the comment about a person of color writes, and our response are your perceptions are wrong. I want you to read through these blog pages and find how often we differ in opinion and have different perceptions amongst ourselves. If we can differ in opinions with a white person, why can we not differ in opinions with a black person?? Does this really make sense to you?? When a black person writes, we should just accept what they are saying and nod politely. That is patronizing, and racist in and of itself.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, you say..."I am going to look up and take notice of the other parents who came along, and I am going to go out of my way to say hello and introduce myself."


Did you in the past choose not to include parents who were 20 years younger than you?? Parents who ride the bus?? Parents of color??

Of course not. You just tend to hang around the people that you know. Now you will be more welcoming. But what if the new parent is upper class and white?? Will you welcome him/her too?? Are you going to be more welcoming in general to everyone, or just to those who need additional effort in the welcoming area??

Anonymous said...

Charlie: Produce the parents of color in the district who believe the system has bent over backwards for their children. You make such a crazy assertion without even talking to families of color. I think the district has bent over backwards for you and other parents who fill their inboxes with scathing memos, reports and complaints. I'm not dinging you for this - advocacy for our children is part of our job - but please don't make it sound like the district ignores you in favor of parents of color.
Also, you are patronizing when you assume the only problem for families of color with APP/Spectrum is the eligibility issue. Many, many students of color can do the APP/Spectrum work. But they do not want to endure the cultural isolation of those programs. They do not want to endure well-meaning people telling them their perceptions on race are wrong, as some on this blog jumped to tell the woman of color who chose to express her thoughts. Yes, you can disagree but you cannot tell someone their feelings or perceptions are wrong because you're not them. You can suggest other reasons for their perceptions but you are in no position to say whether what I feel is right or wrong.
For the record: having a perspective on race is not the same as using it as a crutch. It is about being aware of how you're pereived in the classroom, in the community and in the world. And for many students of color, they aren't perceived very highly. Indeed, some of the tones on this blog show me that some of you privately don't think much of families of color. You believe we complain too much and use race as an excuse. And yet we're supposed to all get along. hmmmmmm.
Lastly, as for the question of whether or not Danny Westneat is angry, let's not put him on a pedestal. If anger didn't drive him to remove his child from school and devote at least two columns to what in the end is a self-serving issue (it did not touch on any other school but his own) then I don't know what did. And as for the demands he and other families made at Madrona, please go back to Lornet Turnbull's lengthy but illuminating piece on this issue. And yes, all of the children would've benefitted from some of the things requested but when a principal has to choose between dance and remedial academics - as NCLB and other mandates stare him in the face - his choice is clear.

Anonymous said...

I think that I can see how understanding something about how people may generally react to my skin color could help me be prepared for various circumstances.

Where I am still uncertain, is when it seems to be a goal to teach generalizations about race. Does it help the cause of justice, to say that children of one color need remedial academics and children of another color need arts and music? Is that motivating for the children involved?

Anonymous said...

Wendy,
When funding large school systems, educated guesses, or generalizations are often used. For example, Madrona's test scores show that remedial academics is needed. The race of these students is secondary to what the academic results show. And when money is limited, as it is in public education, it does become a question of remedia versus the arts. Yes, children would benefit by having both. So the parents who want the arts might have to find ways to pay for it while the district finds ways to pay for the basics.
This goes beyond race. Eastside school districts face the same dilemma in serving their largely white student populations: offering a well-rounded curricula - which ought to include the arts - but understanding that many, many children need remedial ed.

Charlie Mas said...

I try to be a careful writer. I try to be a careful reader. I try to write exactly what I mean and mean exactly what I write. Sometimes I screw up. I don't think that I did this time.

"Charlie: Produce the parents of color in the district who believe the system has bent over backwards for their children."

I never wrote that parents of color believe that, so I have no obligation to prove an assertion I did not make. Here's what I wrote:

"...the District actively works on outreach to under-represented communities. The District is bending over backwards to try to get find these students and get their families to participate in the programs."

The District does actively work on outreach to under-represented communities. The work they do is documented on their web pages, Underrepresentation and Advanced Learning.

Does that effort constitute "bending over backward"? I guess I set a lower bar for that standard than other folks. By me, yes, that meets the standard and constitutes bending over backward. I also happen to support all of it.

Is it a crazy assertion? I don't think so. Do I need to talk to families of color to make it? I think I can rely on the documented facts there without adding personal interviews into evidence.

Do I make it sound like the district ignores me in favor of non-White families? I would think that my theme has pretty consistently and has been that the District ignores all families. I will acknowledge that it is my observation that the District staff really only show enthusiasm over serving underperforming minority students living in poverty. I think I've also been pretty clear that, despite their enthusiasm, I think they do a cruddy job of serving that population.

I don't write to them nearly as often as I used to. Back when I was writing to them a lot they told me that I would be more effective if I wrote less often. So I tried that. It didn't work. I was no more effective, but they were less irritated.

"Also, you are patronizing when you assume the only problem for families of color with APP/Spectrum is the eligibility issue."

Yes, I can see how that would be patronizing, if I had written it or if I had made that assumption. I did not. I never wrote such a thing, nor would I ever write such a thing. I can't imagine why you would suggest that I had. Please extend me the courtesy of not putting words into my mouth. I won't order you to produce the quote in which I said or wrote this. I have no authority to make demands of you, I can only request courtesies.

"You believe we complain too much and use race as an excuse."

This may not have been directed at me personally, but to other blog participants with a "tone". Just the same, not only have I not written that anyone is using race as an excuse, I have yet to even suggest that anyone is using race as an excuse. This comment probably wasn't intended for me personally, but I like to be thorough and as clear as possible. I do not use the expression "race card".

As for Danny Westneat, I certainly do not see him on a pedestal or as a paragon of any kind. You can check with him; I've sent him some sharply argumentative emails in the past. I don't think he's some kind of saint, I just didn't think he sounded angry. I didn't perceive anger in his written words or in his tone of voice on the radio. I don't believe that anger drove him to remove his child from a school where he had been an active member of the community for five years. He really only sounded sad and disappointed to me - in both word and tone.

Moreover, I didn't get the sense that his columns were self-serving. I think he acknowledged his direct participation in these events only with reluctance. I think the themes discussed in the columns are broadly applicable at a number of other Seattle schools and in other contexts as well. I know that this discussion has been difficult and, at times, painful, but I also believe that it is ultimately beneficial for our community. I regret the painful bits, and I have no wish to cause injury.

I certainly agree that:
"Yes, you can disagree but you cannot tell someone their feelings or perceptions are wrong because you're not them. You can suggest other reasons for their perceptions but you are in no position to say whether what I feel is right or wrong."

Rather than telling people that their feelings are wrong, I think it is more productive to choose NOT to dispute perceptions, but to work to understand the perspectives of others. I do, however, think that process begins by confirming the mutually acknowledged objective truths. I have not disputed any reactions to my posts, rather I have tried to clarify what I did write and what I did not write. I will acknowledge that my description of Mr. Westneat's emotional state was a subjective perception of mine. It could be that he did seem angry to another reader or listener.

I wrote:
"Does Danny Westneat sound angry to you? Not to me."

I didn't say that he definitely wasn't angry as if it were a fact. I think I made it pretty clear that this was my personal subjective interpretation and that others might have differing interpretations.

I totally believe that the principal not only had the right, but the duty to prioritize the school budget and the students' time. And I absolutely support the principal's decision to emphasize core academics over art, music, dance, gardens, or recess. I have no basis whatsoever for second-guessing those decisions.

But that's not really what this trouble was about. The issue at Madrona, which is an issue at a number of other schools and is an issue for the headquarters staff as well, was how poorly the principal and the assistant principal managed the relationship between the school administration and a number of student families. I fully expect a professional school administrator to be able to manage and direct volunteers and to make each family feel welcome and honored.

As I wrote before:
"I will say that the situation at Madrona does represent, as Mr. Drape writes, a microcosm of a larger situation. How is it that the volunteers and the school administration couldn't have a conversation and reach a mutual perspective? How is it that the school leadership couldn't say "Thank you for your energy and willingness to help. The garden (or world language classes, or art or music) sounds lovely, but what we could really use is..." Or, if they did say that, how is it that the volunteer families didn't hear it? Why was there no dialog that lead to a resolution and shared understanding? Those families had been at Madrona for four or five years - and they still didn't have enough of a relationship to have that conversation? It makes me shake my head."

Finally, the irony, of course, is that the solution to the sense of cultural isolation for families of color in APP and Spectrum is for more families of color to participate in APP and Spectrum. And by "families of color" of course we mean African-American and Latino families since Asian students are not under-represented, although I cannot say whether they feel culturally isolated or not.

I don't wish to make anyone feel unwelcome to post their comments on this blog. This should be a safe place for discussion, but let's keep it factually correct and intellectually honest. That will make it safer for everyone.