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Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

Topic: Rainier Beach

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May 9, 2014 at 5:00 AM

A windfall for Rainier Beach, but what’s the hidden message?

Rainier Beach High School Principal Dwane Chappelle gets a look at the cake Thursday that Seattle Schools Superintendent José Banda brought to celebrate that the school won a federal grant. Photo by Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times.

Rainier Beach High School Principal Dwane Chappelle gets a look at the cake Thursday that Seattle Schools Superintendent José Banda brought to celebrate that the school won a federal grant. Photo by Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times.

Millions of extra dollars would be significant news for any school.

But at Rainier Beach, with its struggles well-documented and successes often ignored, the infusion of federal money, announced Thursday, was enough to attract a visit from district officials and inspire Principal Dwane Chappelle to play the song “Happy” during afternoon announcements.

Sixty-four schools were eligible to apply for School Improvement Grants because they are Washington’s poorest-performers, but Rainier Beach was the only one in Seattle on the list of 13 recipients. (Fourteen schools applied.)

“It’s about time,” said former Rainier Beach parent Pam Berry, who continues to advocate for the high-poverty school. “Southeast Seattle always gets overlooked.”

Seattle requested $4.3 million, though the final award figure is still under discussion in Olympia. Whatever the total, Chappelle, said most of it will go toward extending the school day, and increasing the number of students enrolled in rigorous International Baccalaureate classes.

But the grant, bestowed only on those Title 1 high schools with graduation rates below 60 percent, bears a mixed message: Is it an endorsement of hard-won progress at Rainier Beach, or a statement of how far it still has to go?

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Comments | More in News | Topics: Rainier Beach

May 7, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Warts-and-all: merging an elite program with a high-needs school

Rainier Beach High School (Seattle Times photo archive)

Rainier Beach High School (Seattle Times photo archive)

It’s a deceptively straightforward question, yet akin to the Holy Grail in education: How do you change a school’s culture?

How do you recast its reputation among parents? Supercharge the expectations of students?

An attempt to find answers led a delegation of nine teachers from Portland, plus two students and a principal, to spend a day at Rainier Beach High this week. They had read recent articles and an Op-Ed describing steady change at the oft-maligned South Seattle school, and wanted to see if there were lessons they might bring back to Oregon.

At their home base, Madison High, math and reading scores linger well below the district average, and only 62 percent of freshmen graduate in four years.

Those are problems that teachers at Rainier Beach know well. But their response has been counter-intuitive. At Beach, teachers are now asking more of students, not less. Last September, they began offering the demanding International Baccalaureate program, asking every junior and senior to take at least one of the college-prep classes.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: Colin Pierce, International Baccalauerate, Rainier Beach

January 24, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Debating IB and other Big Questions at Rainier Beach High

Colin Pierce, coordinator of the International Baccalaureate program at Rainier Beach High School, conducts an information meeting before IB began at the school in 2012. Photo by John Lok / The Seattle Times.

Two years ago, when Rainier Beach High School announced that it would be offering a slate of academically rigorous  International Baccalaureate courses, reaction was — to put it kindly — widespread disbelief.

Kids at long-maligned Beach, where 40 percent of ninth graders drop out and only half of those who remain passed state math exams in 2012-’13, would not be able to handle the college preparatory curriculum, said IB students at other Seattle schools.

But 95 percent of juniors at Beach are now taking at least one IB class, exactly the mark that educators there had hoped to hit in their first year. Earlier this week in Theory of Knowledge, a dozen of those students spent an hour throwing around terms like “utilitarian argument” and “inter-textualization” during a debate about the ethics of physician-assisted suicide.

Is it ever OK to take a life, even one’s own? asked their teacher, Colin Pierce.

“This is exactly the ethical framework of Kantian moral theory,” answered Tavares Tagaleo’o, 16. “It goes right back to the essential dilemma.”

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Comments | More in News | Topics: curriculum, International Baccalauerate, Rainier Beach