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Education Lab Blog

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

Topic: Seattle Public Schools

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April 11, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Skin in the game: Talking race, culture and multi-colored lockers


Julie Breidenbach

New schools don’t crop up every day. So watching the formation of Fairmount Elementary, scheduled to open this September in West Seattle, has been instructive.

Parents may assume the most difficult tasks would be selecting a curriculum, and hiring the right teachers. Not so, says Julie Breidenbach, a Seattle School District veteran and current principal at Thurgood Marshall Elementary, selected for this weighty job.

Actually, it’s the little things: Making sure that student lockers are in different colors, so that kids who can’t yet count can still find theirs; ensuring a child-friendly system for communication with parents.

What follows — a free-wheeling conversation with Fairmount’s new principal — is the third installment of “Skin in the Game,” an occasional series tracking the birth of Seattle’s newest school.

Q: You’ve collected a pretty active group of parents already. How do you juggle their concerns as community members with your own ideas for what Fairmount needs?

A: It’s a big emotional investment, where your child goes to school, so that doesn’t surprise me. There are some certain things that educators do, and certain things parents do and sometimes these things overlap — a bit. But I’ve learned over the years to set some very clear boundaries. Time is finite and there are things I’m not going to waste a lot of time discussing, like uniforms. ‘No’ means no.

Q: You’re considered a strong supporter of education for gifted students. But a lot of people around here feel that Seattle’s Accelerated Progress Program, with its vast majority of white children, is little more than racial segregation.


0 Comments | More in News | Topics: Fairmount Elementary, Seattle Public Schools

March 27, 2014 at 5:00 AM

A year later: What’s up with school discipline case in Seattle?

Illustration by Paul Tong / Op Art

Illustration by Paul Tong / Op Art

A year ago this month, the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education publicly acknowledged it was investigating racial disparities in student discipline in Seattle’s public schools.

So is the investigation close to completion?

No clue. The silence from the federal education department remains as thick as it was a year ago.

“About all we can tell you is that the compliance review remains under investigation,” a spokesman said Wednesday.

Seattle Public Schools officials say they don’t know the status of the investigation, either.    But they also say they are working to  reduce the number of suspensions in their schools.

Federal investigators last visited some Seattle schools late last year, saying they wanted to do more interviews, said Pat Sander, a district  administrator. But they have not called to set those interviews up, she said.


0 Comments | More in News | Topics: discipline, race, Seattle Public Schools

March 13, 2014 at 5:00 AM

UW philosophers help small children ponder life’s big questions

Jana Mohr Lone guides a discussion at John Muir Elementary School in Seattle. Photo courtesy the University of Washington.

Jana Mohr Lone guides a discussion at John Muir Elementary School in Seattle. Photo courtesy the University of Washington.

Most people think of philosophy as a subject for college, not kindergarten.

But University of Washington philosopher Jana Mohr Lone believes young children benefit just as much from discussing big questions about life.

In 1996, she founded the Center for Philosophy for Children at the UW, which has grown steadily and this year is working in 18 public and private schools in the Seattle area. Last month, the center hosted Washington state’s first high school ethics bowl.

Lone also teaches a UW class on how to discuss philosophy with children, has written a book on the subject, and will lead an upcoming webinar for teachers on how to lead philosophical discussions about literature.

But the center’s mainstay are the regular visits that Lone, other UW faculty members and trained UW students make to about a half-dozen elementary and middle schools, where they help young students ponder questions such as whether people are good only because they fear the consequences of doing something bad, and whether mental work is really work.


0 Comments | More in News | Topics: Center for Philosophy for Children, Jana Mohr Lone, philosophy

March 5, 2014 at 4:05 PM

Workshop to examine racial equity in education

Donna Grethen / Op Art

Donna Grethen / Op Art

A workshop on racial equity in education will be held Saturday at Cleveland High, sponsored by the Seattle Alliance of Black School Educators and Seattle Public Schools.

Bernardo Ruiz, the executive director of race and equity in Seattle, is the keynote speaker. Jeri Harris, a retired Seattle Public Schools education coach, will talk about cultural responsive teaching and the Common Core Standards.

The event also will include a panel on equity and race, with Kyana Cavaiani from the Seattle Office of Civil Rights; Nikkita Oliver from the University of Washington’s Law, Race and Justice clinic; Polly Davis from the King County Office of Alternative Dispute; Reverend Carl Livings from Seattle Central Community College; and Donald Felder, a  retired Seattle principal.


0 Comments | More in News | Topics: race, Seattle Alliance of Black School Educators, Seattle Public Schools

February 18, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Into the deep end: Schools reporter morphs into mom

I’ve covered public education, off and on, for decades. But schools look very different when your own skin’s in the game. This was my thinking as I sat with 60 other parents planning to enroll our kids in yet-to-be-opened Fairmount Elementary come September.

Plenty gets said about the Seattle school district — that it’s segregated, unequal and lets too many children languish — so I’d prepared myself to leave the meeting suitably frustrated. But listening to Fairmount’s new principal, Julie Breidenbach, I was heartened.

Literacy will be her mantra. Music, her holy grail. And science-tech-math? Not so much.

“I look at this as my little public charter school,” Breidenbach said, demonstrating her acknowledged penchant for operating without much of a political filter. “We’ll be inclusive of all children, but we get to do some things differently.”

Difference Number One: A strong push-back against the technology flavor-du-jour.


0 Comments | More in News | Topics: Fairmount Elementary, Seattle Public Schools

January 16, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Parent class grads will tackle academics, bullying, cultural awareness

As one way to increase parent participation, Seattle Public Schools offers classes aimed at nurturing parents’ leadership skills.

The classes were among a number of Puget Sound parent programs highlighted in a recent Education Lab story that focused on an exemplary program in Chicago.

Last week, 24 parents successfully completed the most recent session, a joint effort of the school district and the Seattle Council PTSA. In a ceremony at South Shore K-8 in southeast Seattle, the parents presented ideas they will now carry out in their schools.


0 Comments | More in News | Topics: Family University, parent engagement, parent involvement

November 19, 2013 at 1:30 PM

Guest: Baltimore provides model for school-discipline reform

Andaiye Qaasim

Andaiye Qaasim

Students can’t learn if they aren’t in school. Yet, in Seattle, one in four black middle-school students is suspended each year. In March, racial disparities in student suspension and expulsion rates prompted the U.S. Department of Education to launch a civil rights investigation into Seattle Public Schools.

The League of Education Voters recently traveled with community and education leaders to Baltimore to learn about best practices in discipline. Since 2008, Baltimore City Public Schools decreased suspensions from one in five students per year to one in eight; a similar drop occurred in expulsions.

Baltimore school administrators and education advocates were clear: the decrease was due to the importance of culture and policy; relationships and practice.


0 Comments | More in Guest opinion | Topics: discipline, guest opinion, League of Education Voters

November 13, 2013 at 10:58 AM

New Teacher Residency Program Puts Seattle on the Map

Seattle’s public schools are in their first year of a new teacher residency program. Called the Seattle Teacher Residency, it’s one of 18 programs across the country belonging to the Urban Teacher Residency United network and is the focus of today’s front-page story by education reporter John Higgins.


0 Comments | More in News | Topics: Seattle Public Schools, teacher residency, teacher training

November 1, 2013 at 2:07 PM

UW doctors: Seattle’s high schools should start later

Teenagers aren’t lazy, they just need more sleep. That’s part of the argument made by Joanna E. Wrede and Vishesh K. Kapur on Friday’s opinion page. In a guest editorial, the two University of Washington doctors assert that teenagers aren’t biologically programmed to be early risers. Public high schools in Seattle currently start as early as 7:50…


0 Comments | More in Opinion, Poll | Topics: health, high school, Seattle Public Schools

November 1, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Not pre-med, how about pre-ed?

Jonathan Knapp

Jonathan Knapp (Photo by Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)

Amid the furor over public school reform and education standards in this country, there is one area on which nearly everyone appears to agree: Teachers should be valued as professionals and trained that way, too.

Several well-informed sources say would-be teachers should be screened into highly-selective schools (a la medical students), and serve residencies similar to those of young doctors — sort of an in-service training model.

Seattle, it turns out, is way ahead of the curve. The district is in its first year of exactly such a program — the Seattle Teacher Residency — with 25 teachers-in-training employed at 5 elementary schools, where 25 senior educators act as their mentors.

Most unusual of all: The program has full buy-in from the teachers union, according to president Jonathan Knapp.


0 Comments | More in News | Topics: Jonathan Knapp, Seattle Public Schools, Seattle Teacher Residency