The Strange Case of Tracy Castro-Gill

On my way out the door for blogging about Seattle Public Schools, there are two last posts to write.  One is about my thoughts on the district we have today and what I see for its future.

For those who don't keep up here at the blog, I announced some time back (actually years in the making) that I would end blogging about Seattle Public Schools and focus on higher-level issues like so-called personalized learning, charter schools and student data privacy.  (I will still have twice-weekly Open Threads for those who want to discuss the district or any other public education topic.)

I do want to highly recommend a recent story in the New York Times on race and how people who live in Hawaii think of it. 

What follows here is an opinion piece with supporting data. The most important takeaway is not what has been happening to me but rather, what kind of behavior will this district allow vis a vis staff at JSCEE and in the schools.  Because if vicious name-calling is the new normal, this district is in trouble.

This post is about the head of Ethnic Studies for Seattle Public Schools, Tracy Castro-Gill.  She was formerly a teacher at Denny International Middle School.

She is many things.  Bright and yet not a sophisticated thinker.  Energetic and yet she thinks no one notices how hard she works in the district and whines about it.  Sure of her stands and yet unwilling to consider that she just might not have everything right.  A scholar to be sure and yet, she seems unable to read for content, being content to skim and then, slash and burn.

Most of all, she believes she is the rightest of right.  

In short, she's part of a wave of the new public education advocate - the zealot. 

The dictionary defines a zealot as:
a person who is fanatical and uncompromising in pursuit of their religious, political, or other ideals.

I'd add that it's a person who decided that their view is the correct one.  Not just that what they believe public education should be but also their way to get to better public education is the ONLY one.  And heaven help you if you deviate off that mark in  even the slightest tick.  Because then you will be labelled.

Castro Gill has chosen to label me a racist (and a liar).

Just to note, I have never met Castro-Gill.  She's never reached out to me.  I truly have no idea why she's attacking me now but I perceive that there is this impatience/anger over my reach in the wider Seattle community and some who believe "Melissa must be stopped." 

Let me just say that I categorically reject that label and people who know me - even those that don't agree with me - would say, it's just not true that she's in any way a racist. Castro-Gill is  entitled to her opinion but all the online shouting in the world won't make her attacks true.  But again, I perceive that she's upset that she isn't listened to more widely so why am I?

When you are dealing with zealots who believe they are the ones who speak with purity about all things race, ethnicity, and the intersection of those for all of us, there's nothing you can say that will satisfy them if you can't pass their purity means testing.  You will always be shouted down.

What do I chalk this up to?  After reading much of Castro-Gill's writings - on Twitter, on Facebook and at her blog,  I would say she's complicated.  Just like we all are.  It saddens me that in this country we are reduced to trying to paint each other into a corner, with the brushstrokes of just a few words.

I'm the woman she calls a "busybody."  I started being active because of my own children.  Was that wrong? I attended school board meetings and, after listening to parents throughout the district, thought, "Holy hell, there's a lot more going on than just my kids."  Did that make me a busybody?  And then Charlie and I started blogging.  She's got the "busy" right, though, it's hours and hours and hours of visiting schools, research, reading, writing, and most of all, sitting thru meeting after meeting. (I smiled at the recent school board candidate forum where a couple of candidates said they had been to "countless" board meetings.  Chris Jackins, the quiet district watchdog, wins that one, kids.)

While she has her own blog that operates in one way, this blog is, and always has been, about multiple voices.  About the good, the bad, AND the ugly.  She and her small group of followers don't seem to appreciate an open forum.  I do allow people to say what they think of others' thoughts.  I do allow people to attack me (to a certain degree).   And when I read a comment that is racist or completely bizarre, I do sometimes let it stand.  You know why?

Because sometimes it's better to say nothing and let that person's shameful words speak for themselves. 

Because sometimes my readers are much better at letting someone know how very wrong they are than I am. 

This is my blog because I'm the moderator.  But it has been a community blog for years and years.  Unlike Castro-Gill, I'm interested in what parents and the public think, no matter if I disagree.  There's a two-fold reason for that.  One, it allows me to gauge what's out there about any particular issue.  Two, I don't want an echo chamber.  It's boring and you learn nothing. But Castro-Gill likes being told she's great and seemingly isn't interested in any other viewpoints. 

The zealot; remember that.

My perception is that Castro-Gill is a hard worker.  The lists she brings to Board committee meetings of what she has gotten accomplished is quite lengthy.  She says she goes to conferences on her own dime and speaks before packed rooms.  She frequently says to the committee members that she doesn't mean "to toot my own horn" and then does just that.

If you read her blog - and I have and probably in a much more calm and detailed manner than she has given this blog - you'll see that she has depth to her thought and many of her ideas for SPS have merit.

She's willing to diss (although not quite in the way she has with me) everyone and anyone in the district.  She admits on her Facebook page that because of some emails she wrote to the Superintendent and the Board, she has been told not to directly contact them.  (I note that I checked and that directive comes from the Superintendent, not the Board.  It may have been a chain of command thing but it seems troubling that the Superintendent would just categorically say, don't write to us.)

From her Facebook page:

Tracy Castro-Gill I have a letter written to me by HR and legal via my supervisor instructing me not to contact Supt. Juneau or the Board. It was given to me after I wrote a letter to Supt. Juneau and the Board about an incident of racism that continues to interfere with the implementation of ethnic studies.

Ms Castro-Gill also says this at her own blog:
My job has been threatened. My integrity has been questioned and my social media stalked. I have been reprimanded and told I cannot directly contact the superintendent or board of directors over “contentious” issues. I have been accused by leadership of trying to sabotage the work I created because I have called out principals for obstruction (which I have evidence of). My social media is followed and reported to the superintendent. She had a stack of my Facebook posts, tweets, and blog posts in hand the last time she called me into her office.
I'll just note that if the Superintendent already had a stack of Facebook posts, tweets and blog posts that Castro-Gill wrote by the time I wrote to Juneau,  they didn't come from me. 

She tweeted that the Alliance for Education's choice of principals/teachers to give awards at their May luncheon was wrong.

Below is what she wrote at her blog about Dr. Eric Anderson, head of Research and Evaluation, who admittedly is a white male, but also someone who I have found to be smart and well-qualified.

An additional factor to consider is that the research and evaluation team in Seattle Public Schools consists primarily of white people, with the director being a white male (Seattle Public Schools, n.d.b).
When the goals of the district, including the Strategic Plan, specifically call out racial disparities, it would make sense that the data culture be led by a person who identifies with impacted groups. A racial equity literate (Gorski, 2015) person of color would be best suited to set the parameters and purpose of data collected than a white male who cannot fully understand the needs of students of color.
(To add to the discussion about data, there is an uptick of articles about "decolonizing data" and one written locally was at Crosscut. )

Another issue about her is if I make a comment at a Facebook page she is on, she'll jump in on me. Seemingly as if it is her job to be sure to attack me but with zero thought about derailing the discussion. If it's a person's personal Facebook page, that doesn't matter, she'll do it anyway.  When the latter happened recently, I tried to defend myself, gave up and apologized to the person whose page it was.  Not Castro-Gill.  She's so righteous about her positions, she believes she's entitled to run amok anywhere she pleases.  I'm not sure that's the mark of someone who listens. 

She is running for school board in Highline SD.  Her opponent has won the endorsement of MLK Labor and the King County Young Democrats. And most tellingly for a former teacher and union organizer, she failed to get the endorsement of the Highline Education Association.

She talks at her Facebook page about whether she would talk about people as she does me  from the dais in Highline should she win the election.  Her answer is yes, she would sit on the dais and call anyone a racist if she thought it was needed.

She has told Board committee members, several times, that one-third of principals have not answered her calls and/or emails about ethnic studies.  I think there is probably more than one reason for that but I'll go out on a limb and say it might be that principals don't want someone who is willing to name-call coming into their schools and doing that to teachers and staff.

From my nearly two decades as an activist in this district and writing this blog for over a decade, I have become a recognized expert on Seattle Public Schools.  I have never said I'm a teacher or a journalist but yes, I am a citizen reporter who has built up a reputation for integrity and getting it right and that's why people read this blog and listen to me. 

One of the saddest things that I have experienced in all this time is the weird kind of misogyny of "You're a woman who doesn't 'work' and therefore, that volunteer stuff you do? It means nothing because you don't get paid and it's not your area of study."  Castro-Gill has said this about me.  If that's true, then we have at least a couple of people running for Seattle School Board who have the same credentials ( but less so than me).

I don't write about what I do away from this blog because, well, mostly I don't feel the need.  The people I try to help, they know I'm there and that's been enough for me.  But, at this juncture, as I am slowly walking away from blogging, I am going to speak up.

I know that Sarah Sense Wilson, head of UNEA, has spoken up for me and even to Ms. Castro-Gill, who seems mightily annoyed that Sense Wilson just doesn't seem to get it.

I know Trish Dziko, who is the head of TAF, and is a colleague friend would not agree that I'm a racist.  (And boy, would I love to see Castro-Gill take her on; Trish does not suffer fools gladly.)

I know Dr. Carol Simmons, a lifelong educator and support of lifting up students of color in our district, would not agree.  

One puzzling piece of this would be the librarian at the school I volunteer at.  I won't name the school or the librarian but she sides with Castro-Gill's opinion of me and, was even egging people on to get me.  (At one point, Castro-Gill said she was "going to have a little fun with me on Facebook."  A little junior high school smack, no? But that's just the level of discourse for her and her friends.)

This librarian has seen me come into her Title One elementary school, week in, week out, month in, month out, year in, year out...for three straight years.  I'm in a diverse classroom and my teacher is black.  I have advocated for this school on several district issues.  I have brought books that I had donated by neighbors so that the school library would have more offerings.  I have listened to this librarian complain about her principal taking her grant dollars which the librarian brought up apropos nothing.   I was dumbfounded when she told me that as what could I say at all?  I would politely call her a hypocrite.

There's much more I could list but I don't need to.

If I'm a racist, it's odd how I'm working mighty hard for kids of color.  Putting in time and money and sweat into helping kids of color in public education, that's how I hide my racism.  I have actively sought out education leaders of color, that's how I hide my racism. 

That my opposition to Amplify was the basis for all this is just jaw-dropping.  You can't have a different opinion about a curriculum without it being twisted that you don't want to support the learning of kids of color?  

 And please take note; this won't be just me.  Racial equity is going to be used as a club in this district and the zealots are going to happily wield it.  Racial equity should be the focus for the district but not like this. Won't the zealots be surprised to learn that some who have secret motives for egging them on are not really their allies in the work?

And this is the weirdest part of all in the bigger picture.  I'm a natural ally and yet because I don't pass their litmus test, then I'm out.  How do you bringing more people into the fold, to learn more, to help kids of color, if you pass judgment on them?  There are plenty of people who give lip service to helping students of color and sadly, some who don't give a damn (see Trumpers) and yet the zealots ire is on people who are closest to supporting them? Doesn't really compute.

What is the most painful is that Castro-Gill also thinks she has the corner on the market about anyone's racial/ethnic background.  She's the same thinker on this topic as candidate Chandra Hampson.  They both have the unmitigated nerve to try to tell others who I am.

They both know the exact right percentage for you to claim your heritage.  Castro-Gill is half Mexican and I'm a quarter but apparently, my quarter doesn't count.  My abuela would be spinning in her grave if she heard that one.  She grew up in Texas when it was part of Mexico, then part of the Republic of Texas and then Texas the state.  She didn't immigrate to the U.S.; where she lived was made part of the U.S. 

That growing up - right on the border with Mexico - in a small, rural town that was majority Mexican, that means nothing.  My Mexican-American friends from high school would laugh right in their faces to learn that anyone would think I'm a racist.  That I don't identify as Mexican-American does NOT mean that it is not part of who I am and that I am not proud of it.  I am. But no one gets to speak for me on that topic but me.

I hope that you hear that point clearly - the zealots are so sure of their beliefs about race that they will even challenge your upbringing and your heritage to beat your opinions down.  That's very troubling.

Just as it would be concerning if Castro-Gill was sitting on a dais in Highline SD passing verbal judgment, so it would be for Hampson to sit on the Seattle School Board passing judgment, silently or otherwise, on any person's heritage who stands before her.

As I wrote to the Superintendent and the Board, I ask for nothing from them for me.  I wrote to ask them to consider what it does to the district to have someone there to spread the gospel of ethnics studies, as Castro-Gill is amply able to do, who also has a take-no-prisoners attitude that extends to name-calling and heritage-challenging.

I find it hard to believe this kind of attitude and willingness to go after people viciously and with glee is really going to move the needle on ethnic studies in this district.

You don't need to read farther; I'm just providing a modified version of the backstory.  I will gently say I have been much more just and nuanced to Castro-Gill than I have to be.  But that's my MO - I like to look at the whole, and not just the part I want to see to fit a narrative that holds my worldview.

In the end, while it's wrong, it's mostly sad.  Castro-Gill seemingly flails around, "Look at me! Why aren't you looking at me?" about her work. And that points to a sad, pathetic person.

I am not allowing comments on this post - she's had her say, now I've had mine. I'm done here.

But still, I smile.

It all started on April 30th when Castro-Gill issued this throwdown on her Facebook page (which, oddly, is open to all) and on Twitter.  I didn't even know who she was until someone else alerted me.  What seems to have set her off was the issue of the K-12 Science adoption (which she both favored AND hated - you can see this in what she first said about me below).

**Disclaimer** I am not on the clock for Seattle Public Schools.
Can we please judge the science adoption on the merits of the content, not on the shit Westbrook and her fanatic followers make up?
I don't know MaryMargaret Welch well, so I won't speak to her character, but I have seen how Westbrook and her group of torch bearers have gone after individuals and initiatives...
I also know that many of the teachers opposing Amplify are white, male teachers and women in STEM positions are subject to misogyny.
I don't like online curriculum. In fact, I am opposed to it. Actually, I'm opposed to any pre-packaged, corporate ed. curriculum, and I see it as a necessary evil, especially in schools that are under-resourced with teachers who are doing their best to keep their heads above water, and especially in schools where being a teacher means being a social worker.
If you're going to critique the content of Amplify, cool, but don't do it because a racist mob of malcontents told you to - which is where the KUOW piece originated in the first place. Westbrook was bragging about it on her blog...

Tracy Castro-Gill In full transparency, my own child hates Amplify, and that could be because pilot schools were told to "teach it with fidelity." No curriculum should be taught with fidelity. That's the antithesis of culturally responsive and critical pedagogy. But I can't stomach the toxic whiteness coming from Westbrook and her crew. And - it doesn't matter if my privileged kid doesn't like it. My privileged kid will be just fine. What matters is families of color are asking for it...

So there you are folks. If you're reading this blog, you're a racist.  Tracy knows all.

See that dog whistle in there "torch bearers"?  Funny how one person's activist is another person's "torch bearer."

To note, I talk to public education reporters all the time; I don't need to brag about anything.

She then said this at Facebook:
Westbrook is over on Twitter telling on me. I should unblock her on Facebook and have some fun.

Sue Peters is part of it but Westbrook is the lead torch bearer. And who else is calling out these racist fools, cuz I ain't seen it nowhere else?

Then, after the Science Adoption vote, there was this comment at my thread on that vote (bold mine):

Anonymous said...

Congratulations! We poked that mean old racist Melissa Westbrook and her blog's readers in the eye and won a battle against those nasty white people in north Seattle. Sure, this means kids are going to have serious mental and physical problems with a screen-based curriculum, won't learn science, kids of color will see their learning and success rates plummet, and teachers will be laid off, deskilled, and see their salaries capped or even cut, while corporations and investors laugh all the way to the bank. But it was all worth it to show those entitled and privileged white parents that they don't get to make all the decisions around here. Round of applause everyone!!

Tenacious 5/30/19, 10:40 AM
I deleted this comment because it violated blog policy.  My spidey sense (and common sense) tells me it was her.  She denies it was her and has threatened to sue me for saying so.  Yes, I should have been more circumspect and said something like, "It sounds like her. I mean, her self-nickname is "Tenacious" and she uses that at both Twitter and her blog.  She admitted on Facebook her own kid hated Amplify and that she hates packaged curriculum like Amplify.  She has publicly called me a racist. But no, it couldn't possibly be her." 

Here's an example of how she doesn't read for content but just in order to spew venom:

says, "I won't dismiss previous committees' work because they didn't use a racial equity lens." Is this who we want on our school board to meet the needs of students furthest from educational justice?
I remember that post.  The point (clearly) being made at the time was that head of Student Services, Wyeth Jessee, had told the Board that previous Advanced Learning committees had not used the racial equity lens.  I said, as a person who had been on one of those committees, it was because there was NO racial equity lens at the time BUT that we HAD considered those issues (just not in the way that is available now).  That's why I wouldn't dismiss the work of those committees, not because I don't want the racial equity tool used. 

She calls me a "liar" for me saying I wasn't going to run for school board and then I did file.  Again, she lacks the knowledge base of about running for office and the politics that goes on. And guess what? I withdrew - for strategic purposes - i.e. after making sure there were two candidates. So I'm not running.  That the second candidate withdrew -  someone told me they thought she feared running against me - isn't under my control.

(I note her saying she doesn't do "campaigny" things like going out and meeting the public. Good luck with that run for the Highline School Board.  Also, good luck to former SPS superintendent and now Highline superintendent, Susan Enfield, if Castro-Gill does win.) 

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