Seattle Juneteenth Mayoral Forum and talk of Seattle Schools

From the Times:

The candidates who were there had some tough talk for Seattle Public Schools. State Sen. Ed Murray said if he were mayor, he would forge a new partnership with the school district to increase the graduation rate.

“The school district has to change,” he said, vowing to make improvements in the graduation rate and how money is targeted — or, he said, “Please yell at me and vote me out of office.”
Usually, the school district blames the state Legislature for district problems, so it was interesting to hear that.

Ed Murray is my senator and yes, I am a bit surprised to hear him say this.  He hasn't said a lot about Seattle schools in any pre-mayor bid venue.  His advocacy has been limited (and appreciated) to the Legislature.  Without specifics, this isn't much (and I'm still waiting to interview him so we'll see).

Also, note to the Times, the district does not blame the Legislature for all its problems; just the funding ones. 

Mayor Mike McGinn talked about his work on the Youth Violence Initiative, and Harrell talked about problems with institutional racism. And all the candidates were clear that out-of-school suspensions are a problem, and the city needs a program to keep kids in trouble in school.

There were several speakers at this week's Board meeting about this issue of school discipline especially around suspensions and expulsions (especially well-done by Dr. Carol Simmons, a long-time - much, much longer than Charlie or me - public educator and advocate for at-risk students).

Then there was this:

In one interesting exchange, forum moderator Kwame Garrett — a candidate for mayor himself in 2009 and the director of the Umoja Peace Center — asked a leading question about the building where the forum was hosted: the historic Horace Mann school near Garfield High School. Seattle Public Schools owns the building and has money to remodel it and put the Nova program back into it. Garrett, and most of the room it seemed, are opposed to that plan. They’ve been using the building as a community center and want to keep it that way. What would you do as mayor about that?, he asked.

One by one, the candidates carefully spoke about compromise. Socialist candidate Mary Martin was an exception; she said she’s ready to fight the school district. “Sure,” she said. “I’ll march with ya. But it’s gonna be a fight.”

Murray said he would seek a compromise that considered not just school needs but community needs. Staadecker said the school district has rights as the owner of the building, but perhaps something could be worked out. Kate Martin said she would create “community schools” that are schools during the day but open in the evenings and summers for community use. McGinn said he would meet with the superintendent.

Only Harrell was willing to say just what the community didn’t want to hear.

“I don’t know if that’s the right thing right now,” he said. “I’m not sure this is the brick and mortar for our community.”

The Mann building has not been out of use as a school building for that long and I'm surprised at the expectation that any other use would be long-term.  I agree with Kate Martin's idea about shared uses of school buildings (but that would likely preclude using it during school hours for anything other than a school).

But Harrell is also right about finding the right space for a community center.  What might have been good - as was advocated awhile back - is to allow the MLK, Jr. building to be turned over to the community - not a private group - for community uses.  


Charlie Mas said…
Ummm... Isn't there a community center right across the street?
Forgot about that. Hmm.
Carol Simmons said…
Dear Melissa,

Thank you for the compliment.

It was extremely disturbing that two speakers from LEV asked the Board to adopt the Student's Rights and Responsibilities Document which still included Suspension and Expulsion as Discipline Sanctions. Even more disturbing was the Board vote of 6 to 1 to adopt the Document. This was an opportunity to make a clear policy statement against ineffective, punitive and discriminatory discipline sanctions. There are so many alternatives to suspension which have proven to be so much more effective than out of school exclusions. The adoption of this Document gives the District another year and provides an excuse to delay positive changes to the disproportionate treatment students experience in our schools.
dw said…
Carol, thank you for your many years of advocacy for students.

Do you have a good reference link that you can point to that summarizes (like just a page or so) alternative solutions to suspensions and expulsions? It's not a passion point for me where I'm going to spend days or weeks of reading up on tons of research (I have enough of those already!), but I would like to get a better picture of the overview, particularly alternative solutions.

I don't believe there are clear and easy answers for every situation or student. I think it's clear that there are situations where certain students can poison a classroom to the point where it destroys learning opportunities for many other students (and at some point they need to be removed from the classroom), but I also believe that 1) there are methods that can help mitigate things before it gets to that point, and 2) removing a student from a classroom does not always need to mean suspension or expulsion. Just my opinions though; if you know of a quick read, I'd like to see what the current expert opinions are.
Carol Simmons said…
Hi dw,

I find National school Boards New OTL Policy Guide good. The National School Board Association voted to adopt a resolution to prevent the use of out of school suspensions in April of 2013. There are some suggestions given there. The National Education Policy Center provides Policy recommendations also and the tried and true School Discipline Desk Book by Eugene R. Howard is close to home by presenting how our Cleveland High School in Seattle was able to improve discipline problems and provide educational and positive alternatives to suspension. Another model which I found to be effective as Assistant Principal is Hayes Mizell's In House Suspension Program. We used this model at Cleveland and Garfield High Schools. This In House Suspension program consisted of counseling and tutoring....There are so many alternatives to out of school suspension such as "school service" related to the offense and many more. During the Gang Years in Seattle we used these alternatives and they were effective. Cleveland High School reduced their suspension rate considerably. Thank you for your interest. Wish I had a single sheet to refer you to but perhaps the District Committee will get one together before long.
Watching said…
Regarding Murray: People that have utterly failed to fund education shouldn't be permitted to comment on educational outcomes.

If anyone failed students it was Murray and the legislature.
dw said…
Hi Carol, thanks.

I looked at a bit of this (Hayes Mizell's paper). I was hoping for more specifics, but it makes sense to me at a high level. I'll try to read more over time, but wanted to say thanks while you're still likely to see it here.

A critical point is the distinction between in-school and out-of-school suspensions. I wonder how many people even know the former exists. I didn't until maybe a couple years ago!. Education is key. If the average person thinks the idea is to take away the ability of a school to remove a disruptive student from a classroom, then I think that's a losing battle, perhaps with good reason. But finding more productive solutions than just sending a kid home (or out on the streets) should hopefully be an easy sell -- at least at a high level.

Wish I had a single sheet to refer you to but perhaps the District Committee will get one together before long.

Sounds like a good "Guest Post" for this blog, at least as a starting point. I'm sure Melissa would be happy to oblige, right Melissa? ;-) Then whenever someone asks, you (and the rest of us) have a handy reference to point out, not to mention the comments/conversation is usually worthwhile to find holes and look for improvements. Just a thought.

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