When Seattle Public Schools (SPS) Superintendent Denise Juneau arrived at the school district last year, she stated a commitment to learn from families, students, teachers, and community partners as she forged a path forward for students and staff. In an effort to draw various perspectives to the table, Juneau launched a “Listening and Learning Tour” from August to November 2018 in which she met with 2,500 people over 21 community meetings, seven town halls, and 22 staff sessions. The conversations, along with feedback received from an online discussion in October 2018, helped shape the foundation for the district’s strategic plan for the next three to five years.
The main priorities that emerged from the months of discussions include ensuring racial equity throughout the district and improving core operations, including transportation and food services. With the help of consulting firm District Management Group and a strategic-plan steering committee, SPS developed a strategy proposal that was posted on the district’s website Jan. 8.
Parents, staff, students, and community members can provide online feedback to the draft strategic plan by January 22 at noon. Seven community meetings held this month, ending on Jan. 28, also grant opportunities for in-person input. Feedback gleaned from the meetings and online forms will be analyzed by District Management Group and the school district; the themes that emerge from the analysis will be presented to the School Board on Jan. 30. Once the strategic-plan steering committee amends the document, the School Board will vote on the plan in March 2019.
“The 2019 Strategic Plan will chart a course for the continued success of our students, bringing together the collective vision for the future of Seattle Public Schools,” SPS Superintendent Denise Juneau said in a press release. “I truly appreciate your input and feedback to make the Strategic Plan as effective and transformative as it can be.”
The draft emphasizes the prioritization of resources and supportive environments to students of color who have not historically benefited from equitable learning opportunities. The four draft priorities include fostering a welcoming school environment and high-quality education to students of color, African-American males in particular; improving core operational systems such as transportation and safety and ensuring that families are informed of district happenings; increasing staff diversity and leadership, retaining educators of color, and increasing the amount of teachers who attend culturally responsive trainings; and engaging with marginalized communities to identify the needs of students of color.
But as the Jan. 22 deadline for the public comments neared, not all parents said that they received the memo. Contacted by Seattle Weekly on Jan. 18, Licton Springs K-8 parent Allycea Weil said that she was unaware of the draft strategic plan and had not received an email from the district about the opportunity to provide feedback. As a Parent-Teacher Organization member for the North Seattle school, whose enrollment is 61 percent students of color, Weil and other parents have sought to highlight the need for more diverse staff and culturally responsive classes in their children’s building. (As Seattle Weekly covered in a Dec. 5, 2018, article, Licton Springs K-8, a school with a social-justice and Native-centered focus, is in danger of being dismantled due to its low enrollment of middle schoolers. Meanwhile, it shares a campus with Robert Eagle Staff Middle School, which SPS cited as overcrowded.)
Weil noted that the strategic plan would address some of the issues that Licton Springs K-8 faces, such as academic achievement gaps. However, she still had a lot of questions about the racial-equity framework listed in the draft plan. “I would like to know who is evaluating the allocation of the resources and what is the structure of this ‘racial-equity framework?’ What committee is in charge of that? Are they all white? Are they members of the community?” Weil wrote in an email to Seattle Weekly. “The district is once again presuming everyone has a reliable access to the Internet. The district must provide paper letters to families … I have the privilege to be plugged in enough to know what is going on and I didn’t hear about this,” she added.
It’s not the first time that district officials have received criticism for the process by which they elicit public comments on district-wide changes. Last February, Seattle Weekly reported that parents and community members were disappointed with the superintendent search process. Parents were invited to respond to an online survey in which educators, community partners, and parents were asked to choose 10 out of 30 desirable leadership qualities. Seattle Education Association President Phyllis Campano told Seattle Weekly in February 2018 that 70 percent of the 2,100 responses were by whites, and only four people required translation services to the online survey.
As the final day for comments to the draft strategic plan approached, students were making their own demands that echoed the district’s priorities. On the morning of Jan. 21, the NAACP Youth Coalition held a workshop at Garfield High School to urge SPS officials to expand ethnic studies, increase youth of colors’ voices, and to hire and retain more staff of color, among other demands. The student-led group that formed in fall 2017 convinced the School Board to pass a resolution temporarily declaring that the lives of black students matter last winter, but the NAACP Youth Coalition hopes that the School Board will make the declaration permanent this year.
Luci Roman, an NAACP Youth Coalition representative from Ingraham High School, said that she was unaware of the strategic draft plan and that it had not been discussed in the group’s meetings this month. When told about the proposed plan’s emphasis on racial equity and retaining teachers of color, Roman noted: “I approve of that, from what I’m hearing.”
Draft Strategic Plan Community Meetings:
Tues., Jan. 22, 5:30–7 p.m., co-hosted with Somali Moms and Horn of Africa. New Holly Gathering Hall
Fri., Jan. 25, 4:30–6 p.m., co-hosted with Seattle Council PTSA. Seattle Mennonite Church
Mon., Jan. 28, 5–6:30 p.m., Native American community-focused meeting. Graham Hill Elementary