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Empowering young leaders

Yes, smaller class sizes, high-quality teachers and adequate funding are vital in our schools.

Yet I believe we often fail to acknowledge the power that student leaders have to improve and enhance the daily experiences of all kids in Washington’s public schools. Student leadership can make or break the climate of our schools. Youth attitudes and actions influence whether their peers choose to wake up to go to school the next morning and the level of safety students feel as they walk around campus.

Beyond the classroom walls and outside of Olympia, students can play a crucial role in the success of our schools. For more than 50 years, the Association of Washington School Principals (AWSP) has been supporting and promoting student leadership through workshops, camps and conferences that serve more than 10,000 students, advisers and coaches each year.

It’s hard to articulate how powerful it is to be surrounded by 250+ high school student leaders from Forks to Central Valley, out in the wilderness of Randle, Washington, in a world free of cell phones and Facebook, tackling topics from parliamentary procedure to servant leadership. My camp experience (three years as a high school delegate and seven years as a counselor for middle level and high school camps) has been the greatest influence in my commitment to public education and service-learning.

When we look beyond today, we must remind ourselves that these students are the ones who will be the advocates, activists, parents, business leaders, teachers and legislators leading movements as a result of today’s unfinished business. In fact, we all know many students who are already initiating positive change in their schools and communities. Therefore, it is essential that we connect our youth with every opportunity possible to be surrounded by new people, new ideas and new thoughts; to ask tough questions and be uncomfortable; to take risks and to take on a leadership role whenever possible.

Please talk to your children, youth whom you know and students in your schools. Let them know of these opportunities, and encourage them to get involved. Please click on the links for more info, or get in touch with me via email or by posting a comment. This will be my eighth year with Mt. Rainier, one of the five AWSP high school leadership camps, and I look forward to working with new students from your communities and schools.

*Like most other exciting opportunities, this one is not cheap. Prices per delegate range from $275-285, depending on whether or not the school is an official member of the Washington Association of Student Councils. Some schools are able to afford to send their students to camp while others do not have the resources. Don’t miss out on the scholarship opportunities available to help students pay for camp. The scholarship deadline is March 17th.

High School Leadership Camp (Cispus and Chewelah Peak)
Middle Level Leadership Camp (Cispus and Chewelah Peak)
La Cima Bilingual Leadership Camp (Chewelah Peak)
Deaf Teen Leadership Camp (Cispus)
CheerLeadership Camp (Central Washington University)

Posted in: Closing the Gaps

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Help! I published a newsletter in my school PTSA and I just learned I could be sued by the state!

It is extremely unlikely you will be sued. Your school district, Superintendent or Principal could possibly be sued though.

The Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) was formed by the citizens of the state through an initiative to make sure that state facilities and money are not used for lobbying efforts. If you step back and think about this, it makes sense, you don’t want your tax dollars being used to lobby or campaign.

Typically a complaint will occur during a school district bond/levy campaign. The opposition to the ballot issues will file a complaint and the bond/levy ballot issues will fail..(even if the complaint was unfounded). If however, the complaint is found to be valid, the school district and perhaps the superintendent will be fined. This has happened a few times across the state.

What is lobbying or campaigning?
• Asking people to vote yes or no on a bill is direct lobbying.
• Asking people to attend a rally in support of a bill is direct lobbing.

What if you can’t tell if it is lobbying? Ask the communications director in your school district. It can be very, very difficult to tell if your flyer is actually lobbying or not. And, different school districts interpret this different ways. Clearly the best thing to do is to talk to your school district communications director. They will be thrilled that you were proactive, and you will build a very positive relationship with the school district.

But, here is where things get tricky. As a PTA, or an outside organization that is using or renting school facilities you can do whatever you want within the constraint of the meeting, even on school property. You can talk about bills, you can endorse bills, you can pass out flyers, buttons, signs, stickers that all say Vote YES for something. And, if the PTA is running an event like a reflections reception or a movie night, you can also lobby.

The bottom line is…you can’t use any school resources to lobby except within the confines of a PTA meeting or event.

For those of you who like to know a lot more, here is a link to the PDC website that outlines what can and can’t be done, there is a matrix in this file that can be quite useful. Guidelines for Local Government Agencies in Election Campaigns

Posted in: Advocacy and Activism

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Becoming Señora Wallace: Paying for grad school

Here’s the breakdown:

$18,000 approx. cost of UW Masters in Teaching Program (including my additional pre-requisites)
– $4,000 approx. aid received from my AmeriCorps Education Award after taxes
– $8,000 TEACH Grant
———
$ 6,000

Wait, that sounds slightly affordable… There has to be a catch, right? Right.

TEACH Grant recipients must agree to teach for four years in a “high-need field” in a designated low-income school within eight years of graduating from their master’s program. If the recipient does not fulfill this four-year service agreement, the grant will be converted into an unsubsidized loan with retroactive interest.

Fortunately for me, foreign language falls into the “high-need field” category, and I can’t ever see myself teaching anywhere but in a low-income school.

Still, accepting this grant is a big deal. The strings attached to the TEACH Grant oblige prospective teachers to a significant time commitment. Plus, what if teaching isn’t a good fit, or what if a teacher is unsuccessful in low-income schools? What if he or she chooses (or is instructed) to teach another subject that’s not considered a designated high-need field (i.e. English, history, music, art)?

Answer: It’ll cost you dearly. The TEACH Grant definitely raises concerns. In these cases, the TEACH “Grant” is no longer a grant.

Estimated monthly repayment amounts of loans from a TEACH Grant:
• $4000 TEACH Grant
o Pay $50 per month
o Repayment will take 8.75 years
o Total repayment would be $5,343.75

• $8000 TEACH Grant
o Pay $92 per month
o Repayment will take 10 years
o Total repayment would be $11,047.20 — it could cost me about $3,050 to change my mind!

This is another costly aspect that prospective teachers need to consider before accepting financial aid that sounds too good to be true. For the government, this offer produces a high return on investment. However, considering the default terms, prospective teachers may not see this grant as an incentive. There must be less binding ways to attract people to this field. Nevertheless, I need to get going on my TEACH Grant entrance counseling. I’m taking the plunge!

Posted in: Higher Education

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Why go to the trouble of collecting endorsements?

Endorsements are one of the critical tools in the bag of tools that a grassroots organizer uses. The most important tool, the hammer, is your email list of contacts, but your screwdriver, your second most important tool is endorsements.

Endorsements make people “think”, and they make people “do”. The group has to listen, decide, and vote. This engages the group in a way a simple presentation never does.

All groups, including 501c3 nonprofit organizations can endorse a ballot measure, or bill going through the legislature. Yes ALL groups can endorse a bill. This includes Kiwanis, Rotary, PTA, Soccer teams, etc. Of course, culturally they may not want to endorse, they may feel uncomfortable. But endorsing is absolutely within the legal requirements of a nonprofit organization.

Endorsements really are like a screwdriver, they keep working and working and working. Simply engaging your organization by making them think about an issue and act on the issue is incredibly powerful. But there are two other things that happen when an organization endorses. The endorsement can be used as a public tool, and it creates a snowball effect with other organizations.

An endorsement means a group of people have all agreed that this bill or issue is a good idea. The endorsement carries more weight, is more effective because more than one person has agreed to the concept. Now you take this endorsement and you inform the public. You say, my group, X has endorsed this bill. You tell your legislators, you tell your community in your local newspaper, you tell your larger organizations. If your PTA endorses, you should tell other PTA’s in your area, you should tell the state PTA, tell your legislators, send a letter to the editor to tell your community, each of those “tells” influences people to think and maybe to act themselves.

The screwdriver keeps turning. When one group endorses, it makes it easier for other groups to endorse, they point at each other and think, they did it…why can’t we? If one city council endorses, it makes it easier for another, and another and another…the screwdriver keeps turning until we have bolted the idea in.

Endorsements are very, very effective tools in your grassroots toolbag. Let’s get to work.

Want to hear how a local School Board endorsement went – watch this short You Tube Video.

Kelly Munn, LEV’s State Field Director, describes testimony from teachers and parents on a resolution to support the Basic Education Task Force legislation (HB1410/SB5444) at the Issaquah School Board meeting on Thursday, February 5th. The resolution was adopted that night.

Posted in: Advocacy and Activism

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Becoming Señora Wallace: Identity Crisis: Quack goes the…Dawg?

It’s official — I am headed for Huskydom.

How did I decide? First of all, I just couldn’t justify paying $30K for Seattle U (almost twice as much as the UW Masters in Teaching program costs).

More importantly, UW’s new and improved Secondary Teacher Education Program seems like an appropriate fit. These are the highlights and advantages that convinced me to…gulp…become a Husky:

– I can pursue a second endorsement in ESL right off the bat (once again, it’s cost effective!).

– I will take classes through the summer, and I get to work with a high school summer program!

– After four quarters, I will wrap up “traditional coursework” and have the spring (2010) free to hunt for job openings.

– I will have my own classroom by fall 2010! While I won’t earn my master’s until after my first year of teaching, I will have ongoing support during the first year. Plus, the capstone project I will complete during the second year of the program will prepare me to pursue National Board Certification.

Three years ago during my last term at the University of Oregon, if someone told me I’d be headed to UW to become a teacher, I probably would have laughed. Yet, here I am — less than two months from being a full-time student again, and I can’t imagine pursuing any other path.

Posted in: Higher Education

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Why I love education advocacy work

I’m still very new to posting to a blog.  I’m going to start with why I think I do this work, why I love education advocacy work.

I grew up poor; my mom was a single mom of 4 kids who worked for the telephone company.  She valued education and encouraged us to succeed. In spite of this, I lost a brother to drugs and another brother for 20 years to alcohol (sober 15 years now).

We lived in a working class neighborhood where most people worked at the Armour meat packing plant.  I went to high school knowing I would go to college.  I took college prep classes and I had pretty good grades, good enough to get into a state college.

I vividly remember talking to my school counselor about going to college.  I remember she was cute, blond, perky and that I only met with her once in the course of four years.  The reason I remember her is because she discouraged me from going to a four year college.  I never understood why.  I can only guess it was because I was poor and my mom was a single parent, and my brothers were in trouble a lot.  She wouldn’t help me get the applications for college; she wouldn’t help me figure out how to apply to college.  I had no clue.  No-one, literally no-one I knew had gone to college.  Through sheer will I figured out how to get an application and I got in, went to college, worked at Microsoft, had children and became an advocate for education.

I do this work because it shouldn’t be so difficult for children, who want to learn, to get a good education.  I want higher graduation requirements because I know most students need the guidance and the push to get what they really need.    If we don’t have the structure, too many children are discouraged, like me, from trying.  And, if they didn’t have the parental support, or didn’t have the intense drive, they would just stop trying and never get the education they deserve.

On Wednesday, I saw parents from all across the state come to Olympia to say “our kids need more.” They need a six hour class day in order to just keep pace with 21st century demands, they need quality teachers to make sure that they learn a years worth of material in every year, and they need higher graduation requirements to prepare our kids for a 21st century life.  HB 1410 and SB 5444 resonate with parents and the community.  The world has changed.  Our children need more time in the classroom and more higher level classes, and they need quality teachers to deliver them.

These bills deliver a 21st century education our communities want and our children need.

Posted in: Advocacy and Activism

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My trip to History (better late than never)

I’ve never been part of history before. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen cool things and bad things, but saying I’ve witnessed History (capital H) would be a stretch.  As I prepared for my trip I imagined what it would be like and, I have to say, I was wrong. My idea of History didn’t compare with what I experienced.

Last week I took a very short trip to a very large event, the inauguration of President Barack Obama. I left on the red eye last Sunday and arrived in Baltimore on Monday morning at 9 am. I made my way to to the south end of the Capitol Building where so many of us would be fixated the following morning. As I turned the corner, it became closer to real. The barricades, porta potty lined walkways, and people everywhere – I mean everywhere. I stood in front of the Capitol. It was dressed up with American flags – flags that I have never been so proud to see. The choir was practicing – children were everywhere, their parents lift them up pointing and explaining what was about to happen to their world.

My trip built upon that moment. Every minute added another layer of power and depth. I spent the day walking the National Mall. Occasionally, I’d stop and talk to people, and they’d talk back. “Aren’t you excited?” “It’s really happening!” “This is my country.” Everyone was smiling. Everyone was helping one another whether by offering to snap a photo (I traveled alone), a piece of gum, a snack… anything. I slept only a few hours to board the metro just before 6 am and experience the start of a new day. The metro was PACKED, but no one pushed or argued or sniped. Instead people cheered, God Bless America broke out along with a short Happy Birthday to one girl who turned 21 (pictured at left).

It took me an hour  to find the end of my long line and I stood there for hours. I got to know the people I was standing by.  Black, white, young, old, rich, poor – none of that mattered on this special day. After I got through security, I literally sprinted to the Capitol and stood directly behind the reflecting pond. It was an incredible sight. The electricity and positive energy is something that I’ll never ever forget. It was a spiritual reminder that humans are all so similar, we want to be the best, we want to help, we want to understand each other. As I stood and listened to President Obama speak, I took a moment to turn around and take it in.  He was saying these words:

“Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose and necessity to courage.”

It hit me. It was not Barack Obama who blew me away that day. It was us. All of us. We had come together and already accomplished something truly historical. Yes we did! But this accomplishment seemed almost minor compared to the energy, hope, and team work it took to accomplish it. Hope won – and here I was standing next to three African American women my age crying, hugging, and cheering together.inaug

I spent the rest of the day dancing on the iced-over reflecting pond, calling all of my family and friends, and having a long lunch with four people who I had never met before from all different walks of life. It was one of the best lunches I’ve had – mixed with elation and deep discussion on ‘what now?’.

On my flight home I struggled to answer this question – almost to the point of frustration. What more can I do? How can I create real change? I need to do more.  Yesterday I finally got a chance to read President Obama’s letter to his daughters. The most poignant line to me reads, ‘it is only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you will realize your true potential.’ It was a great reminder to me that I’m doing some very cool work here at LEV helping ensure that all children are ready for life. Sometimes changing the world feels difficult (okay really difficult), but  last week reminded me that it is possible. That’s enough to keep me going. It takes team work and diligently chipping away at a common goal. More than that, it is what needs to be done.

I want all our children to go to schools worthy of their potential—schools that challenge them, inspire them, and instill in them a sense of wonder about the world around them. I want them to have the chance to go to college—even if their parents aren’t rich. And I want them to get good jobs: jobs that pay well and give them benefits like health care, jobs that let them spend time with their own kids and retire with dignity.  – Barack Obama, ‘What I Want for You – and Every Child in America.’

Posted in: Advocacy and Activism

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Voting and Volunteerism

City Year kicks off their year of service at Westlake Plaza

City Year kicks off their service year at Westlake Plaza

I spent last Friday with the 2008-09 City Year Seattle/King County corps, and it was wonderful to be back! This time last year I was wearing the red jacket, volunteering at Chief Sealth High School and running a service-learning program for high school youth. Last Friday I put on my alumna hat by speaking with City Year stakeholders and educating this year’s corps about why they should vote.

What a powerful group of young people — 53 idealists from across the nation, ages 17-24, who have come to Seattle to serve youth in the Pacific Northwest. A few corps members are from Washington; most are from out-of-state. Yes, that’s right — here’s a fresh crop of new Washington voters, young adults eager to learn about Washington’s public schools.

These are our most valuable education voters. They are our future teachers, school administrators, non-profit leaders, social workers and perhaps even our future legislators. City Year places these energetic, passionate young adults in schools around Puget Sound, including Wing Luke Elementary, Dearborn Park Elementary, Denny Middle School, Asa Mercer Middle School, Chinook Middle School (Highline), Chief Sealth High School and the African-American Academy. Corps members also serve youth at Treehouse, South Park Community Center and the Center for Young Adults (part of the YMCA of Greater Seattle), .

City Year corps members are familiar with education issues because they are in classrooms as tutors and mentors, providing academic support to K-12 students and facilitating afterschool programs and weekend service-learning programs. They are invested in the issues because they know the students, parents and teachers affected by key issues like the WASL, graduation requirements and funding.

Last Friday was productive and inspirational. It started with the Breakfast of Champions, a community engagement event attended by a variety of stakeholders including Cheryl Chow (president) and Harium Martin-Morris (director) of the Seattle School Board and Davy Muth, Wing Luke Elementary principal and City Year service partner.

Following the breakfast, I delivered a presentation to the corps called, “You, Washington State and the 2008 Election.” My goals were to register new voters, remind out-of-state voters to check their state guidelines and to highlight why every vote counts. Here in Washington State, we’re all quite familiar with tight races. If the 2004 gubernatorial race and last year’s Simple Majority Campaign won’t convince you that your vote matters, I don’t know what will!

According to a USA TODAY/MTV/Gallup Poll of registered 18-29 year-old voters (see the October 6th USA Today article, “Young voters hint at electorate shift”), Obama leads McCain 61 percent to 32 percent among this age group, making this “the most lopsided contest within an age group in any presidential election in modern times.” The young voter turnout rate jumped 9 percentage points from 2000 to 2004, and in the presidential primaries, it nearly doubled in 2008 (since 2000).

Volunteerism is on the rise, especially among young people. Involvement in community service raises social and political awareness. Greater knowledge and investment in pressing social issues fuel the fire for change. It’s no wonder young voters support Obama. He inspires greater participation in national service programs like City Year, Teach For America and AmeriCorps because a) he’s mobilizing youth and b) he’s willing to financially reward those who commit to national service.

City Year, keep up the great work! Friday was a reminder of the importance of outreach and the ripple effect that it has on social change.

Posted in: Advocacy and Activism

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African American Achievement Gap Advisory Committee meeting recap

Posted by Heather

The African American Achievement Gap Advisory Committee (created by HB 2722) met at UW-Tacoma yesterday. The main attraction of the meeting was Paul Ruiz of The Education Trust. Mr. Ruiz is one of EdTrust’s experts on the achievement gap, and brought along the latest version of “Education Watch: Washington.” You can read the 2006 version here.

Mr. Ruiz made a number of interesting and thought-provoking points during his presentation to the committee. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Not all kids learn the same way, but all should learn to “respectable levels.”
  • Kids should leave high school with ability to pursue options (college, trades, etc).
  • When looking at NAEP and WASL scores, Washington is telling two different stories about proficiency (Of 4th graders, 77 percent passed the 2007 Reading WASL, compared to 37 percent scoring proficient or higher on NAEP).
  • The faculty of low-income/high-minority schools should mirror the faculty at affluent schools (meaning our teacher workforce should be more equally distributed).
  • We shouldn’t force teachers to teach where they don’t want to go, but the Legislature can set money aside to be used by high-poverty schools as incentives to attract teachers.
  • In order to improve student achievement, the Committee (and State) should set goals and then allow districts and schools to figure out to meet those goals.

After a brief Q-and-A session with Mr. Ruiz, the Committee broke for a working lunch to discuss the efforts of its three workgroups.

Next, we heard from Janell Newman (of OSPI) and Dan Barkley about district and school improvement and accountability. Dr. Newman and Mr. Barkley gave a presentation on Washington schools in improvement steps (as defined under No Child Left Behind) and how the State works with some of those schools. In the data recently released by OSPI, we learned 628 schools (of 2,115) are in an improvement step. This is up from 280 schools last year and 180 schools in 2005. And while OSPI only has the resources to help about 100 schools, they were able to make progress with those schools.

The big challenge here is the State cannot intervene in schools in improvement steps unless it is asked. If all goes well with the State Board of Education, Washington will have a new accountability system that gives the State the ability to intervene when schools are struggling. To learn more about the effort of the SBE, click here.

The Committee ended by reviewing its interim report, due next week. These are typically status reports, and the Committee seems on track to meet its final draft deadline in December.

Posted in: LEV News

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