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

Topic: Skin in the game

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November 26, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Skin in the Game, 5: Teacher meetings aren’t only for the kids

I don’t know what I expected — an inquisition about my parenting style? The discovery that my 5-year-old was a secret sociopath? A misfit genius? Whatever I imagined this bogeyman to be, my first parent-teacher conference was nothing close.

Instead, we adults sat on tiny-person chairs around a miniature table, looking over evidence of my son’s 12-week evolution. I saw his handwriting on the first day of kindergarten, and how it had changed three months later. (Still no “finger-spaces” between his words.) I saw what he could sight-read in September, how he’d tripled that by November, and where on the reading-assessment levels he now rates. (Pretty well, though he still stumbles when trying to read the word “read.”)

Kelly Shea / The Seattle Times

Kelly Shea / The Seattle Times

I pictured this veteran teacher, sitting all day in those itty-bitty chairs, doing the same show-and-tell exercise for two dozen other families, and realized how much an elementary educator’s job involves teaching parents the processes of public school.

It’s visible, the mark this bureaucracy leaves on a 5 year old. On the first day of class, all the kids looked vaguely perplexed at having to sit in fixed seats or at assigned spots on the carpet. That’s gone. You can see it in their faces. They’ve toughened a bit, figured out that they’re being funneled into a much bigger system, and that it has rules.


Comments | More in News | Topics: parenting, Skin in the game

September 4, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Skin in the Game, IV: Opening Day, for school and mom

Credit: West Seattle Blog. A capacity crowd of parents gathered for the opening of Fairmount Park Elementary School

Photo courtesy West Seattle Blog. A capacity crowd of parents gathered for the opening of Fairmount Park Elementary School

Everyone expects crying on the first day of kindergarten  from the parents, mainly. But I saw not a single tear during opening day at Fairmount Park Elementary on Wednesday. Despite the dirge of bad-news stories about American education, the feeling inside this bright, airy, refurbished and reopened West Seattle school was, overwhelmingly, hope.

The place is so shiny-new that an American flag hanging in the library still had its fresh-from-the-box creases. The math workbooks were yet to arrive.

But a new school does not mean newbie staff. Seattle Public Schools made the savvy decision to install veteran principal Julie Breidenbach at the helm  evidence of the increasing recognition around the role of school leaders in student success — and she, in turn, led a trail of former colleagues to Fairmount Park.


Comments | More in News | Topics: Fairmount Park Elementary, Julie Breidenbach, Skin in the game

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.


Comments | More in News | Topics: Fairmount Elementary, Seattle Public Schools, Skin in the game

February 27, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Skin in the game, Lesson One: Mom, do your homework

Claudia Rowe

Claudia Rowe

Parents meeting after-hours in a school cafeteria may not sound like the newsiest event. But I was there, as a reporter and a mom, because my child will be entering Fairmount Park Elementary when it opens this fall, and I wanted to hear what those of us new-to-the-school-system need to know. I’ve covered education for a long time, but the terrain looks very different when your own kid is involved.

Lesson No. 1: March 7 is the deadline for filing the paperwork to enroll your child in any Seattle public school. This applies to kindergarten students, children new to the district or kids applying to switch out of their assigned buildings.

Even in our wired city, that comes down to paperwork. Lots of it. Paper from your child’s doctor certifying immunizations. Paper from utility companies or courts confirming your address. Paper verifying your child’s birth date.

One wonders why a school district handling 50,000 kids would want to do things this way, but so be it. I will be gathering documents.


Comments | More in News | Topics: early ed, kindergarten, registration

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.


Comments | More in News | Topics: Fairmount Elementary, Seattle Public Schools, Skin in the game