League of Education Voters http://educationvoters.org Building a quality public education system from cradle to career. Tue, 29 Jul 2014 18:00:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 First step: Engagement. Second step: Change the world.http://educationvoters.org/2014/07/29/first-step-engagement-second-step-change-the-world/ http://educationvoters.org/2014/07/29/first-step-engagement-second-step-change-the-world/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 18:00:05 +0000 http://educationvoters.org/?p=22775 Micaela RazoEarlier this month, a study from the University of Washington examined ways that immigrant parents could become engaged in their child’s school when traditional methods are barriers to their involvement.

That study resonated with League of Education Voters (LEV) Community Organizer Micaela Razo, who has done much of the work mentioned in the study—both as a parent and as an organizer—by engaging parents in migrant families in eastern Washington.

We asked Micaela to tell us about her experience engaging parents in their child’s school, and she told the story of creating the first Spanish-speaking PTA in Washington state, formed two-and-a-half years ago in Grandview, and how she got there.

I became an advocate for my child when he was very young. We were living in one of the wealthiest school districts in the area and the PTA lived up to the stereotypes you hear about—that it’s just bake sales and fundraising.

But I was finding that I had to navigate the maze of school bureaucracy and learn to advocate for my child all on my own, so I decided to infiltrate the bake sales. I was the first parent of color to join the PTA.

The story could have ended there, but the school’s principal said she saw something in me that she didn’t see in many parents and nominated me for the office of secretary in the PTA.

From there, I slowly began to change the board. I organized trainings and brought in specialists to talk about special needs students. We began to engage parents in ways beyond fundraising. This, in turn, opened the door for other families, families of color to get involved. Next, I began advocating for Hispanic families who needed resources and ensured that they had access to the same resources I had found.

Micaela Razo presents to a group of parents and family members.

Micaela Razo presents to a group of parents and family members.

Next, I got more involved in the school district. When the school district formed a diversity committee, I joined the committee as the parent advocate. We discussed the issues the school district was facing that we needed to examine from a diversity lens.

My family and I moved to Florida, where I was also heavily involved in my child’s school. We eventually returned to Washington and settled in Grandview.

When I went to the school to sign my children up, I asked the staff, “How do I sign up for your parent group?”

The staff literally laughed at me. They said, “We don’t do parent engagement here. We haven’t had a PTA in 20 years.”

I felt so strongly about parent engagement that I told the staff I was going to start a group. The principal heard me and told me that he would support my efforts. He started by calling a parent meeting during the second week of school.

Just 15 parents attended, all of them Spanish-speaking, so there was a huge language barrier. Although the principal was making every effort, it was clear to me that the parents were not engaged and did not really understand what he was talking about. So I started asking questions and translating what I was asking, and all of the parents perked up.

I wasn’t working at the time, so I starting going to the school everyday and talking to parents as they dropped their kids off at school. I made phone calls and then I invited parents to an initial parent engagement meeting.

Word got out, and more than 60 parents showed up at the first meeting. That meeting lasted more than three hours, and we discussed our goals for the school and barriers to parental involvement in the school.

By the third meeting, more than 100 parents were showing up, and I introduced the concept of a governance model and forming a PTA. And at the fourth meeting, more than 100 parents and 40 teachers all voted in favor of creating a PTA.

That’s how the Grandview PTA was formed for Spanish-speaking parents. But the PTA was the end result—it’s not how we started.

Micaela Razo preps for a parent and family engagement day.

Micaela Razo preps for a parent and family engagement day.

I started by talking about getting engaged in your child’s education and gave parents some ownership of and leadership responsibilities for their child’s education, and we were able to discard the stereotype of a PTA and form an organization that actually engaged parents.

Even now, with a formalized PTA chapter, we don’t focus on governance. We spend the minimum amount of time on minutes and the rest of the time on parent engagement trainings.

A lot of work that I do trying to engage migrant and low-income families is simply gaining their trust. Once parents know that what I say is true and effective, they’ll trust me. Many of them might not understand school bureaucracy or organizational governance, but if they trust me, they’ll stay engaged in the organization and in their child’s education. They respect me because I respect them and meet them where they are. I will make sure that all parents have the resources they need.

I always tell parents, “We can move walls if we work together. We can’t do it alone.”

My primary goal wasn’t to form a PTA, it was to engage parents; the PTA was a side effect. And together, we changed the culture of our school. After 20 years of no parent engagement, we changed that culture within two years.

The University of Washington study hits the mark on the work that we’re doing in eastern Washington.

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Sixty-four percent.http://educationvoters.org/2014/07/22/sixty-four-percent/ http://educationvoters.org/2014/07/22/sixty-four-percent/#comments Tue, 22 Jul 2014 16:34:13 +0000 http://educationvoters.org/?p=22739 By Emma Margraf

Sixty-four percent of foster kids in Washington state do not graduate from high school.It was the day that Jane was brought into the principal’s office to be scared by a police officer for threatening other kids that sent me over the edge. She was in the eighth grade, being bullied, and in a downward spiral of discipline without direction or objective. I walked into the principal’s office and told him if he ever did anything like that again without calling me first I was going to sue everyone in the district. “There is a long line of people who’ve let this kid down,” I said, “and you are one of them.”

As I walked out of the school, I realized I had to be honest with myself—the status quo was never going to work. Cut to five years later and Jane and I have pretty much worked it out, with the help of friends. Quite a bit has happened that you can read about here and here. Jane’s nearing the end of her high school career and the girl who no one wanted to let out of the resource room has tested into college-level English, gotten her driver’s license, and learned to make friends and plan for her future.

According to OSPI, sixty-four percent of foster kids in Washington state do not graduate from high school.

Sixty-four percent.

They graduate at a lower rate than any other category of students—homeless kids, kids who speak limited English, children of immigrants—they all graduate at a higher rate. It’s easy to see how Jane could have been one of those statistics—some kids and parents just don’t have the fight in them to succeed.

I represented a teenage boy in foster care as a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate)—a very smart kid who was in a terrible placement and on the same downward spiral of discipline that Jane was on.

Except that, instead of looking for positive solutions, his foster parent had him arrested over and over again for things that other kids get grounded for. This boy is needlessly failing classes and already planning to drop out. At the moment, it’s only the thug life that this boy can see. Professionals are lining up to tell him he needs to stand up and “be a man,” but no one is teaching him what, if anything, that means.

I was asked recently if anyone in foster care has asked me how Jane found the road to success while so many other kids did not. The short answer to that question is “no.”

The secret to Jane’s success is simple—she and I ask for what we want, set goals, and figure out how to reach them. I find her as many opportunities as I can and she takes advantage of them. I have resources, and I have friends who have resources, and I have made the case that investing in her now will pay off in the long term.

To everyone who will listen I say this: sixty-four percent of foster children will not graduate from high school this year.

This is not an inevitable statistic.

The League of Education Voters has done quite a bit of work on the school-to-prison pipeline—but it wasn’t until I saw it close up that I realized how entrenched the pipeline is in our schools and our society. When we wonder where our homeless population comes from and where criminals are made, all we have to do is look around our public high schools to see which kids are in the principal’s office without an advocate ensuring they get the treatment they deserve.

This fall Jane will be applying to college, something that I was told was impossible way back in the eighth grade. She told me back then that she wanted out of special education, off medication, and to have a better life than her parents. I have kept those sentiments as goals and held to them, and so has she. It’s not been easy in the same way that any kind of parenting isn’t easy—but it’s no secret, and she’s not a statistic, not one of those kids in the sixty-four percent.

Emma Margraf is a writer and a foster parent in Washington state. She writes mostly about foster parenting and nonprofit life, but she aspires to be a food and travel writer and to make the perfect grilled cheese.

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Graduating all students college and career ready in Washingtonhttp://educationvoters.org/2014/07/11/graduating-all-students-college-and-career-ready-in-washington/ http://educationvoters.org/2014/07/11/graduating-all-students-college-and-career-ready-in-washington/#comments Fri, 11 Jul 2014 23:03:30 +0000 http://educationvoters.org/?p=22718 A campaign for the strongest rules possible in the implementation of Washington’s new high school diploma culminated in a big win for kids. Read the story of our journey below.

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From Sandy Hook to Seattlehttp://educationvoters.org/2014/07/10/from-sandy-hook-to-seattle/ http://educationvoters.org/2014/07/10/from-sandy-hook-to-seattle/#comments Thu, 10 Jul 2014 16:00:11 +0000 http://educationvoters.org/?p=22709 Building the compassionate schools movement

Following the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, Dr. Christopher Kukk and Scarlett Lewis, mother of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, began work to weave compassion into schools. They met with President Obama and soon after with his sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, who was developing compassion curriculum for schools on the opposite side of the country. The movement to create a nation of compassionate schools had begun.

Join Compassionate Seattle—Compassionate Schools Constellation for a networking conference for teachers, parents, students, administrators, and community partners as we learn from these experts and work together to promote social and emotional growth strategies, community service opportunities, earth stewardship initiatives and innovative perspectives for rethinking schools.

August 11, 2014   7–9 p.m.   $10.00
August 12, 2014   8–4 p.m.   $20.00

$25.00 for both events if registered by August 1, 2014

Cleveland High School, 5511 15th Ave S, Seattle

Register online: http://compassionateschools.bpt.me

Guest speakers include:

Dr. Christopher Kukk
Western Connecticut State University
Center for Comnpassion, Creativity & Innovation

Scarlett Lewis
Founder, Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation

Marilyn Turkovich
Charter for Compassion International

Ron Hertel
OSPI, Compassionate Schools Project Director

Raj Manhas
Superintendent, North Thurston Public Schools

The office of Mayor Ed Murray
City of Seattle

Clock hours offered for all Washington State certified teachers. Light refreshments and a full lunch will be provided.

Register Now: http://compassionateschools.bpt.me

This event is being co-sponsored by Compassionate Seattle—Compassionate Schools Constellation, and Charter for Compassion International with the generous support of Cleveland High School. This was posted on behalf of Compassionate Seattle—Compassionate Schools Constellation. Download the flyer for this event.

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Endorsements announced by the League of Education Votershttp://educationvoters.org/2014/07/09/endorsements-announced-by-the-league-of-education-voters/ http://educationvoters.org/2014/07/09/endorsements-announced-by-the-league-of-education-voters/#comments Wed, 09 Jul 2014 23:00:20 +0000 http://educationvoters.org/?p=22701 The League of Education Voters (LEV) is pleased to announce its endorsements for the 2014 elections.

“Our vision is to improve public education for all students in Washington state, from cradle to career, with ample, equitable, and stable funding,” said LEV CEO Chris Korsmo. “To achieve that vision, our goal is to elect candidates who will be partners in that effort.”

LEV’s endorsement process is conducted by a committee of board and community members who interviewed candidates beginning in May. The LEV Board voted last week to approve the committee’s recommendations for endorsement.

2014 LEV Endorsements

The endorsements below are accurate as of 7/7/2014.

Candidates for the House of Representatives

5Chad MagendanzR
11Steve BergquistD
16Maureen WalshR
21Lillian Ortiz-SelfD
22Chris ReykdalD
22Sam HuntD
23Drew HansenD
26Nathan SchlicherD
26Larry SeaquistD
27Laurie JinkinsD
27Jake FeyD
29David SawyerD
31Drew StokesbaryR
32Ruth KagiD
33Tina OrwallD
35Drew MacEwenR
36Reuven CarlyleD
36Gael TarletonD
37Eric PettigrewD
40Kris LyttonD
41Tana SennD
41Judy ClibbornD
43Brady WalkinshawD
43Frank ChoppD
45Larry SpringerD
46Jessyn FarrellD
47Pat SullivanD
48Ross HunterD

Candidates for the Senate

6Rich CowanD
31Cathy DahlquistR
36Jeanne Kohl-WellesD
37Pramila JayapalD
43Jamie PedersenD
44Steve HobbsD
45Andy HillR
46David FrocktD
47Joe FainR
48Cyrus HabibD

To support these candidates, donate to our Political Action Fund today!

For more information or to be considered for endorsement, please contact Frank Ordway at frank@educationvoters.org.

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Activist of the Month: Ashley Guerrahttp://educationvoters.org/2014/07/08/activist-of-the-month-ashley-guerra/ http://educationvoters.org/2014/07/08/activist-of-the-month-ashley-guerra/#comments Tue, 08 Jul 2014 16:00:34 +0000 http://educationvoters.org/?p=22686 At the League of Education Voters (LEV), we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state. We are pleased to announce our Activist of the Month for July: Ashley Guerra. Read more about her experience leveraging technology to improve parental involvement in education.

The Guerra family at the June 6 State Board of Education forum. From left: From left to right, Ashley, her younger brother Julito, her mom Yelenys, and her dad Julio.

The Guerra family at the June 6 State Board of Education forum. From left: From left to right, Ashley, her younger brother Julito, her mom Yelenys, and her dad Julio.

Ashley Guerra just finished her first year of high school, so it might surprise you to hear that we chose her as our Activist of the Month for July. But it won’t surprise you for very long.

Ashley recently testified at the State Board of Education’s forum on the updated high school diploma for Washington. Her focus was parent engagement.

Her goal to increase parent engagement began as a school project at Kent-Meridian High School, which has the lowest graduation rate in Kent. Ashley and her peers decided to try to find a way to improve Kent-Meridian’s graduation rate.

After researching strategies that have been shown to improve the graduation rate, Ashley and her project group members decided to focus on parent engagement.

While the Kent School District already has a very successful program to engage parents called the Parent Academy for Student Achievement (PASA), Ashley found that many parents were unable to attend the 9-week class regularly because of their work schedules or transportation difficulties in attending the class.

As a solution, Ashley came up with the idea of building a mobile application with the entire PASA curriculum on it. Parents would be able to follow the curriculum at their own pace, and the app could be translated into whichever language is spoken at home. “When used to its full potential, the PASA curriculum can have a huge impact in empowering parents to become involved in their child’s education,” Ashley says.

The reception to her idea for a mobile app was so good that Ashley gave Kent-Meridian High School’s first-ever TED(-style) talk. Her idea also caught the attention of one of her teachers, who put Ashley in touch with LEV’s Community Organizer Joyce Yee.

The rest, as they say, is history. Ashley gave an excellent presentation, and Joyce describes her as a “visionary” individual with an unparalleled commitment to her cause. In fact, Joyce added, “Ashley insisted on testifying at the State Board’s forum despite having had her wisdom teeth removed just two days prior.”

What’s next for Ashley Guerra? Well, career-wise, Ashley plans to become a pediatrician. But, Ashley attributes her success as a student and advocate to her parents and strives to emulate them. “My parents sacrificed everything to ensure that I could succeed in life, and I want to pay it forward. Above all, I want to impact society and make a difference.”

You can rest assured that we will be seeing a lot more of Ashley in the future!

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Making the sky the limithttp://educationvoters.org/2014/07/03/making-the-sky-the-limit/ http://educationvoters.org/2014/07/03/making-the-sky-the-limit/#comments Thu, 03 Jul 2014 19:47:22 +0000 http://educationvoters.org/?p=22697 Making the sky the limit. (View from Spokane.)Rogers High School in northeast Spokane had a graduation rate of 50 percent in 2010. This year, the graduate rate was 85 percent, an increase of 35 percent in four years.

What changed between 2010 and 2014? Not the student body. Seventy-five percent of students at the high school are eligible for free and reduced lunch (FRL). What DID change is how students prepare for high school and life after high school.

Rogers High School is in its sixth year of a Navigation 101 grant from College Spark Washington, and they have also implemented the AVID program in their school. Both Navigation 101 and AVID are programs designed to prepare students for college or career.

One aspect of both of those programs is the High School and Beyond Plan, used to help students chart a path through high school to achieve their post-high school career goals. The High School and Beyond Plan is also one part of the newly updated high school diploma for Washington, which was passed during the 2014 legislative session. The League of Education Voters is working with communities across the state to ensure that the implementation of the new diploma is as effective as possible.

So how did Rogers High School implement the High School and Beyond Plan successfully?

Assistant Principal Brett Hale described the format for the High School and Beyond Plan used at Rogers and outlined a number of tactics that were successful:

  1. Begin the plan in middle school.
    “We partner with the middle schools and students prepare their High School and Beyond Plans beginning in 7th grade.” Thus, Brett says, what was originally a four-year plan became a ten-year plan, which students preparing plans to take them from middle school through their post-secondary plans.
  2. Revisit the plan often.
    Students meet with their advisors every week. Advisories are made up of the entire school administration—guidance counselors, administrators, and teachers—so that the student to advisor ratio is 14:1.
  3. Engage parents.
    Parents engagement can make a huge difference in student success. So Rogers High School brought parents in to be active participants in their students’ class registration process.
  4. Engage students in order to engage parents.
    This one is pretty obvious, right? Engaged students are more likely to be successful than peers who are not engaged. But Rogers took this one step further and organized student-led conferences with their parents. These conferences take place every year for every class, and students lead discussion with their parents on career and college readiness and the High School and Beyond Plan. They also discuss pathways to different careers and explore all of their options for their next steps after high school.For ninth grade, Brett says that Rogers added an additional student-led conference at the beginning of the year to lay the groundwork for the High School and Beyond Plan. “This conference gives both incoming freshmen and their parents the foundation they need to really take advantage of the High School and Beyond Plan and make plans for the future.”

But what effect has the High School and Beyond Plan had for Rogers High School?

In addition to the 35 percent increase in graduation rates, the percentage of students graduating with college-ready transcripts has also increased by 45 percent, says Brett. “More students than ever are going to college or have college as an option now. Seventy-seven percent of our graduating seniors have been accepted and are continuing on to post-secondary school this fall.”

With such great success, Brett says Rogers High School has no plans to change the way they’re doing the High School and Beyond Plan. “We haven’t plateaued by any means. We’re going to keep this model and continue empowering all of our students to graduate high school ready for whatever the next step in their career may be. The sky should be—and will be—the limit for all of our students.”

To learn more about the rules process for implementation of Washington’s new high school diploma, please visit our website.

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On the proposed rules for E2SSB 6552http://educationvoters.org/2014/07/02/on-the-proposed-rules-for-e2ssb-6552/ http://educationvoters.org/2014/07/02/on-the-proposed-rules-for-e2ssb-6552/#comments Wed, 02 Jul 2014 17:45:34 +0000 http://educationvoters.org/?p=22672 League of Education Voters CEO Chris Korsmo sent the following letter to all Washington state legislators earlier today regarding the proposed rules for E2SSB 6552.

On behalf of the League of Education Voters, I applaud the Legislature for the passage of E2SSB 6552 and for the explicit recognition that “preparing students to be successful… requires increased rigor and achievement, including attaining a meaningful high school diploma with the opportunity to earn twenty-four credits.” I strongly agree and thank you for your leadership.

With the passage of 6552, we have a law that can increase rigor, empower local control and ensure consistency at the state level for high school graduation requirements.

At the League of Education Voters, we believe that every student in Washington state should have access to an excellent public education that provides the opportunity for success. E2SSB 6552 is a step in that direction. But only if implemented well.

Next week, the State Board of Education will vote on proposed rules guiding the implementation of this new law.

We have a number of concerns related to the implementation of the law and the proposed rules that are addressed in detail in the attached document.

Of particular concern to the League of Education Voters is the provision allowing students to waive credits. We have an economic imperative as a state to ensure that students are ready for the next step after high school, whether that is a career or post-secondary education. However, allowing any of the 24 credits to be waived results in less rigor, not more. In addition, high school graduation requirements should be consistent across the state. The proposed rules include significant flexibility for both school districts and for students, which incorporates the extensive discussions leading up to the passage of 6552. The State Board of Education has done exactly what the Legislature authorized them to do and any further changes to E2SSB 6552 should be made through additional legislation.

Thank you again for your work to ensure that each Washington student graduates from high school with a college and career ready diploma and the opportunity for success. Please review the attached addendum for more information about our specific concerns on the updated high school diploma. I welcome hearing from you on this important issue and working together during the 2015 legislative session.


Chris Korsmo

Att: On the proposed rules for E2SSB 6552

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¡ACCIÓN!http://educationvoters.org/2014/07/01/accion/ http://educationvoters.org/2014/07/01/accion/#comments Wed, 02 Jul 2014 00:30:18 +0000 http://educationvoters.org/?p=22670 “Sending my child to school is the only way I can ensure he doesn’t have to work as hard as I do; it is the only way out for my family. But I cannot speak English, so how am I going to make sure that he succeeds in school?”

Maria Zanotti of Inspire Development Centers introduces new techniques to make at-home learning fun for both parents and children.

Maria Zanotti of Inspire Development Centers introduces new techniques to make at-home learning fun for both parents and children.

This is one of the many stories that can be heard in Yakima Valley, Washington. Yakima, located in eastern Washington and known for its lively agricultural communities and large production of hops, is also home to a large and vibrant Latino community that makes up approximately 40 percent of the population.

While public education is confusing and complicated for a lot of people, navigating the system turns out to be particularly challenging for Yakima’s Latino community, as many parents only speak Spanish and work long hours in the fields trying to provide for their families.

Thus, it came as no surprise that when registration opened at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday, June 21, crowds of eager parents and family members queued up at the entrance of Sunnyside High School to participate in our summit and activist training, Parents Partnering in Education. The League of Education Voters partnered with Inspire Development Centers and the Sunnyside School District to offer the summit.

League of Education Voters' Community Organizer Micaela Razo answers questions after her crash course in Advocacy 101.

League of Education Voters’ Micaela Razo answers questions after her crash course in Advocacy 101.

Parents Partnering in Education was an all-day event that covered topics ranging from the basics of advocacy to how to best support children with special needs. By the end of the day, parents had the opportunity to attend 17 different workshops and presentations.

The children who accompanied their parents were also well taken care of. Childcare was provided in classrooms around the school in the form of an exciting day filled with arts and crafts and other fun activities, and complete with instructional sessions from trained teaching staff.

About halfway through the day’s activities, participants were invited to a special presentation by guest speaker Bernardo Ruiz, Seattle Public Schools’ School Family Partnerships and Race and Equity Director, and the League of Education Voters’ Community Organizer, Micaela Razo. The presentation was a combined effort to empower parents to take “ACCION!”

Guest speaker Bernardo Ruiz delivers his charge for parents and family members to take “ACCION!”

Guest speaker Bernardo Ruiz from Seattle Public Schools delivers his charge for parents and family members to take “ACCION!”

Bernardo told the story of his struggles as a child to achieve academic stability. He attributes his success to the hard work and determination of his mother—who herself had little education—to see him succeed. This was not an easy task but during this time Bernardo says he developed a habit for trading schools and people—from those who told him that he could not to those who told him he could.

Bernardo’s message resonated throughout the day. Fighting for equitable access to a good education will not be easy and parents, families, and students will face obstacles. However, by continuing to take action and by surrounding yourself with people who believe in you and who are fighting for the same thing, you can be heard and instigate change.

And starting on June 21, 200+ families found their voice and are ready to be heard.

Raymond Fenton is the League of Education Voters’ Field Organizing Intern this summer. He is studying rhetoric and media studies and theater at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. He has a passion for social justice and is a vibrant race and ethnicity advocate and student government leader on his college campus. 

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A partnership across Washingtonhttp://educationvoters.org/2014/06/25/a-partnership-across-washington/ http://educationvoters.org/2014/06/25/a-partnership-across-washington/#comments Wed, 25 Jun 2014 21:05:38 +0000 http://educationvoters.org/?p=22653 Rural Alliance for College Success logoThe Rural Alliance for College Success was recently awarded a three-year, $120,000 grant from College Spark Washington to reduce the number of students who require remedial math in college. Jerry Dyar is a guidance counselor in the Mary Walker School District in Spokane, and he has been a leader in the Rural Alliance partnership for the last four years.

The Rural Alliance is a collaboration among rural school districts in Eastern and Central Washington with a focus on college and career readiness for all students, as well as post-secondary program completion. It began as a collaboration between nine or ten districts in northeastern Washington in 2002 and grew from there.

The alliance is now made up of 51 school districts that have about 35,000 K–12 students between them. The majority of the districts in the alliance have very low-income students, with a population where more than 70 percent of students are free and reduced lunch-eligible (FRL). Forty percent are Latino, and 20–25 percent are English Language Learners (ELL). Jerry also estimates that 10-12 percent of all students live in homes with parents who are migrant workers.

Jerry says that the ultimate goal of the Rural Alliance is to help students complete college, but he splits that goal into three parts:

  1. Get kids ready for college.
  2. Get kids into college.
  3. Get kids through college.

Since the alliance’s inception, Jerry says that they have been doing a good job in the first two areas of focus, but that they need to improve in the last area—getting students to complete college. To achieve this, the alliance has partnered with all of the public two- and four-year colleges east of the Cascade Mountains, along with one private college.

Jerry also says that the alliance is working to increase its data capacity and continue building on its collaborations between districts. They are also putting together a Digital Learning Cooperative in partnership with Eastern Washington University as a way to put hard-to-staff classes online.

He uses his own school district as an example. “Mary Walker only has about 30 students in the graduating class. It’s virtually impossible to offer a class like calculus to just three students, but when we partner with other districts, we can offer that class to all of the students in the Rural Alliance and get to the class size we need to make the class viable.”

Several districts in the Rural Alliance have also implemented the AVID program, a college readiness curriculum that has been shown to help close the achievement gap, with the help of a six-year College Spark grant. The initial goal of the grant was to see if AVID could be implemented successfully in a rural environment.

One aspect of the AVID plan is known as the High School and Beyond Plan, which is basically what it sounds like: a plan for students to prepare for high school—and beyond.

Jerry says that the High School and Beyond Plan is like a “touchstone” for the school. Students start planning in third grade, which drives home the idea that college is an attainable goal for students beginning in elementary school. Students update and manage the plan with teachers and their parents through high school.

And was it successful? Jerry says yes, unequivocally. “It helped establish a college-going culture in our schools—even for students not enrolled in AVID sections. To an entire generation of students, college is suddenly within reach.”

But the Rural Alliance is doing more than helping students—it’s also helping teachers. Jerry says that one of the emerging projects that he’s excited about is creating networks for rural teachers and administrators. “In my school, for example, we just have one math teacher for the entire school. By strengthening networks between rural districts, that teacher can find colleagues throughout the state in the same subject area.” In addition, says Jerry, “This will help teachers with their careers and professional development over time.”

The three-year College Spark grant is being implemented with the ALEKS math program, which is also used by Eastern Washington University. ALEKS is an online program in which each student masters math subject matter at his or her own pace. Jerry is confident that the grant will increase capacity throughout the Rural Alliance to offer advanced math coursework to students.

To learn more about the Rural Alliance for College Success, please visit their website: http://ruralalliancewashington.org

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