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Why Early Learning Matters

Pre-K teacher Julia Brady uses handmade rekenrek’s with her students during a math lesson at South Shore Pre-K. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

By Kristin DeWitte
Principal of South Shore Pre K-8
Guest Blogger

On my first day of first grade, I stood up and said that I wanted to become a teacher. I never wavered from that goal. As I got older, I had the opportunity to work in a school for children with disabilities about the time that PL 94-142 (the first special education law) went into place. I went to Central Washington University and earned my degree in Special Education with an elementary minor. Later in my career I went on to complete two Master’s degrees, the first in Curriculum and Instruction, and the second in Educational Leadership.

I worked most of my career In the Marysville School District, about half the time in special education and the remainder of the time in general education. I have taught kindergarten, first grade, second grade, fifth grade, sixth grade, resource room, elementary, middle school, and high school EBD (Emotional and Behavioral Disorder) classrooms. I have also worked on the core education faculty at Antioch-Seattle, the adjunct faculty at Western Washington University at Bellingham, Everett, North and South Seattle satellite campuses. I was the original developer of both distance and online learning components of continuing education for Seattle Pacific University. And I have consulted on a variety of topics in an eight-state region of the Northwest and Southwest US.

Prior to coming to Seattle Public Schools, I worked for current Seattle Superintendent Dr. Larry Nyland when he was in the Marysville School District. He asked me to take a position at Quil Ceda Elementary, which was a failing school in the state of Washington. We were in the bottom 5 percent of the state when I became principal there. I was there for five years before following Dr. Nyland to Seattle Public Schools. Under his leadership, I learned that being an effective administrative leader means that you build your teachers’ instructional skill and that equity is not frosting on the cake; it is a basic right for the students in high poverty schools. All schools in our state have a lot of work to do on the topic of true equity. I was lucky enough to land at South Shore Pre K–8.

When done right, early learning finds the children from within our school boundaries and invites them in to experience school before they hit kindergarten age to ensure that they are in a language- and experience-rich environment, and that they have had opportunities to learn social emotional skills for functioning in a classroom setting. The purpose is to equalize readiness for all students so they are prepared for kindergarten. Two factors that often play a role in school readiness are an early literacy-rich environment (which builds both vocabulary and introduction into a print-rich environment), and experiences had outside of school.

In addition, most children for a variety of reasons have had opportunities to attend daycare or other preschools that allow children to develop social-emotional literacy, as well. At South Shore, our preschool program is developed to teach to the whole child. Not only do they get early learning skills, but the High Scope program is designed to help students learn how to manage their time and to develop skills for problem solving.

We know that if children do not have a rich environment prior to entering school, they will most likely always be playing catch-up. At South Shore, early childhood education allows us to supplement the home experience so that all children enter kindergarten on a level playing field. To me, having early childhood education is one of the most important components of a school that serves a diverse population, some of which live below the poverty level. We can support and enrich what is happening at home.

In our preschool program, students attend 4 days out of 5. The 5th day, Fridays, are spent on parent engagement activities. A major benefit to students of this program is that students stay with their teachers for two years, so students develop very close relationships with their teachers. Our pre-K and kindergarten teachers are some of the most culturally responsive of the staff because they know what is going on in their students’ neighborhoods. Teachers have been hearing recently from some of our immigrant students about their fears about the recent executive orders, and it is affecting our staff also. We had a pre-K assembly on Friday a few weeks ago in which staff greeted families and gave them strong messages that they are welcome at South Shore.

Funding from a private donor has enabled us to retain a therapeutic counselor and data teams so that we are able to work very closely with particular families who need intensive wraparound support. Many students in grades K-2 do meet learning standards, but not all remain on track. Two subgroups who do not fully meet standards are students with special needs and English language learner (ELL) students; such students may benefit from longer placement to help develop their language access skills. Students are also provided a therapeutic setting where they can take regular “motion” breaks to move around as they wish, and this helps them learn more effectively.

A benefit to our pre-K staff is that they do professional development on Friday afternoons and that the instructional aides receive training along with teachers, so instructional aides get professional development as strong members of the pre-K teaching team.

Seattle Public Schools uses an equity formula and approach to placing students in special education. We are well aware that students of color are over-identified for placement in special education, so our staff works with our pre-K and kindergarten students of color to avoid unnecessarily placing them into special education.

At South Shore, we believe that our whole child approach to early learning, parent engagement with students’ families, and regular professional development for certificated teachers and instructional aides all help provide a strong foundation for students after they leave our preschool and progress onto successive grades.

Posted in: Early Learning

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An Early Learning Perspective on the House and Senate Budget Proposals

Jennifer Jennings-Shaffer, Children's Alliance - League of Education VotersBy Jennifer Jennings-Shaffer, Early Learning Policy Director at the Children’s Alliance
Guest Blogger

Early learning is the foundation of the education continuum; it supports a child’s progress in school and in life. The House and Senate budget proposals each address early learning—but differ markedly in their approach to three key areas of interest to education advocates. Here’s how:

First, both budgets recognize the value of access to high quality pre-kindergarten. The Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) is quality pre-kindergarten for income-eligible children who all too often face barriers to success in K-12. When poverty and other barriers tip the scales of child development toward the negative, ECEAP tips them back toward a good education, a good job, and a good life. Eligible families earn less than 110 percent of the federal poverty line—for a family of four, that is less than $26,730 per year. Despite delivering proven results in academic achievement, lawmakers fund ECEAP for fewer than half of our state’s eligible families—leaving approximately 23,000 children eligible but unserved. This is a missed opportunity.

The Senate budget proposes to provide access to ECEAP for an additional 1,200 children and increase the rate paid per ECEAP slot to more accurately support our early-childhood educators. The House budget proposes to provide access to an additional 2,043 children and also increases the slot rate. The House budget builds upon the proposal from the Senate; it is good progress toward ensuring that children who stand to gain the most from access to high quality pre-kindergarten get it.

Second, neither budget proposal responds to the crisis we see in child care, where lawmakers are giving working families inadequate support to meet rising costs. Washington is already one of the least affordable states in the country for families to find child care. The rates paid to center-based child care providers serving tens of thousands of children in the Working Connections Child Care (WCCC) program are far below the nationally recommended benchmark of 75 percent of market rate. When lawmakers try to offer assistance at these inadequate rates, child care providers face a difficult choice: serve families at a loss, stop serving them, or pass the cost on to (often only slightly) more affluent families to make up the difference. Lawmakers need to respond by raising rates for Working Connections Child Care paid to center-based providers. Neither the House nor the Senate budget adequately addresses this issue. The Senate budget includes $8.1 million for rate increases and the House budget includes $20.3 million. Advocates estimate that $40 million is the minimum investment necessary to protect access to child care.

Beyond failing to adequately address child care rates, the Senate budget includes deep cuts to child care access and quality. The Senate budget proposes a cut of -$31.9 million in access to WCCC. This cut includes eliminating 12-month authorizations for families and decreasing the number of families who can be enrolled in the program. If enacted, these cuts would mean that enrolled families could lose care in the middle of the year due to minor changes in their circumstances. Families who need and qualify for care would find themselves on a waitlist. Additionally, the Senate budget proposes to cut the Early Achievers program by $16.6 million. Early Achievers supports child care providers to improve their quality. These cuts put the brakes on our steady progress to ensure that Washington kids enter kindergarten ready to learn.

Third, evidence-based home visiting programs and paid family leave are both proven strategies for supporting parents as their child’s first and most important teacher. Both the House and Senate budgets protect access to home visiting services but only the House budget includes funding to implement paid family leave. Quality time at home with one’s newest family members is associated with improved maternal and infant health outcomes and increased employee retention. State and local governments across the country are increasingly implementing this smart policy.

We all have a stake in making sure that ALL our kids get a great start. As the House, the Senate and Governor Jay Inslee prepare to finalize a two-year state budget, we are calling on lawmakers to sustain and enhance their early learning investments. Children’s brains develop more rapidly in the first five years of life than at any other time. We cannot hope to close the achievement gap in K-12 if we ignore the early years.

Posted in: Early Learning

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Ask a Teacher on the WA Teacher Advisory Council

2015 Washington state Teacher of the Year Lyon Terry - League of Education VotersBy Lyon Terry, 2015 Teacher of the Year
Guest Blogger

As the 2015 Washington state Teacher of the Year, I am often called to be a speaker, panelist, story-teller, spokesperson and more. But I am far from the only teacher who understands what works in education. To improve our schools, we must involve the people doing the work—the teachers.

I remember speaking in front of six hundred education advocates in a windowless room at the Seatac DoubleTree. The people there wanted to support kids and improve education, and I was glad to be called. But I was the only teacher in the room. How was this audience going to make change to schools without talking to the people who teach the kids?

Education is at a crossroads in our state right now. We must ask teachers for solutions. Teachers should be in every education conversation. Yet, we are often not consulted.

Washington state must increase funding for education by billions over the next two years to satisfy the McCleary Decision. What is needed? Why is it needed? Ask teachers. They will tell you.

Sure, we must increase salaries, particularly for beginning teachers, but teachers are not in the profession for the money. Teachers know there are many other needs. The following teachers are all award-winning educators in the WA Teacher Advisory Council Network. You can search for any education issue there and even use it to gain access to classrooms. We want you to see what is needed. Here are some of the issues that match our teachers’ expertise:

Michael Werner in Granite Falls or Spencer Martin in Sunnyside can tell about the funding needed for their amazing Career and Technical Education Programs.

Ask Katie Brown in Bellingham, Alisa Louie in Kent, or Jose Corona in Yakima about the needs of students who are learning English for the first time.

Have questions about special education? Ask Elizabeth Loftus in Oak Harbor or Theodore Mack in Moses Lake.

Do you want to know solutions for funding our massive teacher shortage? Ask Bethany Rivard in Vancouver, Dave Gammon in Spokane, or Nathan Bowling in Tacoma.

What about the importance of social and emotional learning? Ask Theresa Holland-Schmid on the Kitsap Peninsula or Lynne Olmos in Mossyrock. They can also bend your ear about the importance of arts integration.

Teachers Kendra Yamamoto in Vancouver and Tim Larson in Odessa can articulate the incredible importance of early learning.

Many teachers know what is needed to support science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM).  Ask Barney Peterson in Everett, Jeff Wehr in Odessa, Jeff Charboneau in Zillah, John Gallagher in Port Angeles, or Camille Jones in Quincy if you are interested.

How can we improve parent engagement? Ask Kimberly Witte in Bremerton or Brian Sites in Richland.

Do you care about dual credit, advanced placement, and access for all? Ask Nathan Bowling in Tacoma or Shari Conditt in Woodland.

I could go on and on. I love knowing these teachers. They are all Teachers of the Year, recognized by their districts, ESDs, and the state as experts in the field; they know what our students and schools need to be successful, to thrive. They are members of the WA Teacher Advisory Council with the mission to inform education decisions and influence policy, promoting equity and excellence for all.

Let them rise to their mission. If you have an education question, then please, talk to an accomplished educator. And listen. #askateacher

 

Lyon Terry teaches 4th grade at Lawton Elementary School in the Seattle Public Schools. He is a National Board Certified teacher with 20 years of experience. Every day he plays guitar and sings with his students. You can find him on Twitter @lyonterry or email: wastoy15@outlook.com.

 

 

 

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The Value of Early Childhood Education

South Shore PK-8 Teacher Matthew O'Connor - League of Education VotersBy Matthew O’Connor, Guest Blogger

I came to teaching at South Shore because of previous experience with Teach for America, working in a Head Start classroom in Houston with 3- and 4-year-olds. This inspired me to become an Early Childhood Education teacher.

I am a pre-K and kindergarten teacher at South Shore PK-8 in Rainier Beach. This is my seventh year teaching (fourth year at South Shore) and I work with five other colleagues, three lead teachers, each partnered with a full-time classroom teammate. Our vision for students begins with the belief that every student can be at grade level when they move on to first grade.

Moving forward from that belief, my team considers the reality that the American public education system does not mirror the histories or lived realities of students of color. To respond to this truth, we try to build classroom experiences that combine content and student identity in order to develop a good foundation of academic and social-emotional skills as well as a good sense of self and family. We hope that, in the future, this will allow them to tell their story of self in order to advocate for themselves and their community, reveal truth, interrupt bias, and encourage healing.

We loop with our students, starting with them as preschoolers at 4 years old, and stay with them as kindergarteners. Because of getting to work with our students for two years, we develop deep relationships between us. The students we have are very diverse, from multiple ethnic and racial backgrounds: immigrants, refugees, communities of color, many low income.

For most of our students, it is the first experience that they have with the American education system, and it is a privilege and a burden. It is a privilege because if we do our work right, they obtain a good foundation about what being in school means. They come to understand that the quality education that is their birthright includes a teacher who cares about them and listens authentically to their needs. They also know that this education includes discussions about what is happening in their community. They hopefully come to understand that it is school that must respond to their needs and the stories they bring—not the other way around. It is a burden to know that we send them off as six-year-olds and that they have twelve more years to finish their education, because they may not receive an education that continues to support them to be the best that they can.

Some projects that we do include a unit on developing preschoolers’ sense of self – we interview students about their favorite food, color, they create body shapes and mix paints to match their own skin color, we interview students and parents about their names, why they like their names and what their names mean. We also do two family projects. One is a family tree in which they identify family members in multiple generations. The other is a genetic one about students’ hair, skin, and facial features. Students write what they learn about their families, and what they learn is compiled into a book. At the end of the unit we have a publishing party where students share their work with their families.

Parents are also actively involved in our program. One way is that we invite them to give input on choosing the top 12 priorities that they wish to see students learn. Later they assess their children’s teachers on how they have done to implement these priorities into their children’s lessons. This is done through a tool developed by the Teaching Excellence Network. My team members and I also conduct Chalkboard Chats for parents on different topics – some are academic, focused on how to do a great read along with your children.  For others, community experts were invited in to discuss issues of parenting—such as talking to young children about racial identity or what to do if you expect your student is exhibiting atypical academic or social behavior.

The value of early childhood education is that it gives children a good foundation on which to build for their succeeding years in school – besides academics, students develop a good sense of self and family, and learn that their actions, no matter how small, can help make the world better.

Posted in: Early Learning

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Korsmo’s Weekly Roundup: March Madness

Chris Korsmo

It’s that time – March Madness culminates in the crowning of a champ. Go Dawgs!

The Zags’ road to a championship notwithstanding, then there were three. State budgets that is. A week after the Senate put forward their $43 billion spending plan, the House has issued their $44.9 B budget. The plans differ in a couple of key ways: the obvious difference in size and how to pay for things. With many expecting legislative overtime, the path to agreement is almost always compromise, something that did not go unnoticed by OSPI chief Chris Reykdal. One thing is for sure, our kids need a resolution that helps them succeed. And that doesn’t mean cutting back on out of school programs and supports like the POTUS’ “skinny” budget does. I wonder if the skinny budget isn’t just “hangry.”

One thing not included in the House budget: alternatives to the state exams currently required to graduate. That’s because the House removes the requirement for the tests – and therefore their alternatives. I think you know how I feel. Others agree.

In other news:

  • Changes to the FAFSA – financial aid forms for college – are making life difficult for some.
  • Brookings breaks down the racial disparities in discipline.
  • What do college and preschool have in common? It’s the Benjamins.
  • I think this is kind of harsh. But then I’m not a psychologist.

Before we go, I want to send a huge thank you to all who joined us for the LEV breakfast yesterday. The messages of hope and love for their work came through loud and clear from Teachers of the Year Kendra Yamamoto and Elizabeth Loftus! Many thanks to them for their wonderful insights – and for their leadership in their regions.

And as always, many thanks to you for the work you do to support Washington’s kids!

Chris

 

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Korsmo’s Weekly Roundup: There’s Also a Price When We Don’t Pay

Chris Korsmo

Happy Friday to you, Friends!

If you’re playing along at home, we are two weeks past the midway point of the legislative session. You can keep score here. Let’s dive right in.

If You Spend it They Will Come: If it’s true what Oscar Wilde (and with slight revisions, P.T. Barnum) said, “the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about,” then Senate Republicans should feel great about their budget coverage. You cannot swing a dirty sweat sock in this town without breathless headlines and clever turns of phrase. With a $1.8 billion increase to K-12 education, Senate Republicans have said they are fully funding “basic education,” the point of the McCleary decision and subsequent rulings by the Supreme Court. The budget gives further legs to the Senate’s education plan released earlier this session with levy reform playing a leading role in the “how to pay for it” discussion. We can all agree that there’s also a price when we don’t pay…

This opening budget salvo did come at a price to higher education, early learning, housing and food assistance – cuts we hope are restored (and then some) when final negotiation are under way. And at the time of this writing it looks like Republican senators are open to those conversations. With the Senate budget out, we expect the House to put their plan forward next week. Both chambers would do well to invite this journalist to the negotiating party.

Rigorous Rigor: Last week I had a little soapbox moment about the attempts to roll back high school graduation requirements. This week, there’s more evidence that raising expectations (and supports) raises outcomes. Sometimes you gotta ask yourself whether it’s funny when you’re the butt of the joke.

De Minimizing the De Minimis: You may have noticed the Supreme Court Nominee Neil Gorsuch was engaged in multiple rounds of Senate confirmation hearings this week. A funny thing happened on the way to the marble arch. The U.S. Supreme Court – they of the even numbered variety for over a year now – managed a unanimous decision. On special education. Overturning a case from the 10th Circuit from which Gorsuch hails. I’m not one who typically exalts the writings of Chief Justice Roberts, but do not miss this:

“When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing ‘merely more than de minimis’ progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all,” wrote Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who wrote the 16-page opinion. “For children with disabilities, receiving instruction that aims so low would be tantamount to ‘sitting idly… awaiting the time when they were old enough to “drop out.” ’ ”

Oh, SNAP!

Lovely, Lively Reads:

As always, thank you for all you do on behalf of our kids.

Chris

 

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Chris Korsmo: My Ed Path

Chris Korsmo

When I reflect back on my education, it becomes clear pretty quickly that there was not one big “aha” moment. I didn’t just wake up one morning and was suddenly enlightened about everything on the face of the earth. And we haven’t yet figured out how to download information directly into our brains, like Carrie Anne Moss suddenly learning how to fly that helicopter. Everything I learned built on what I had learned previously. Graduation requirements at my high school were aligned to college-going. While rigorous, those requirements allowed for the arts. Seven years of marching band made me who I am today. All the stories about band camp are true.

This is why our vision at the League of Education Voters is for every student in Washington state to have access to an excellent public education – from early learning through higher education – that provides the opportunity for success. And this is why LEV is a proud member of the Cradle Through College Coalition.

To that end, during the 2017 legislative session, LEV is advocating for:

  • Additional funding for increased access and participation in high-quality early learning programs across the state
  • A system that attracts, retains, and supports qualified and effective educators, which includes teachers, para-educators and principals, while addressing needs for equitable access to quality instruction
  • Programs and funding targeted toward students who need it most, providing both academic and non-academic supports for students to improve outcomes and make progress in closing the opportunity and achievement gaps
  • An accountability system that provides transparency for families on school budgets and student outcomes, measures student and school success meaningfully, and provides effective state- and district-level supports for struggling schools
  • Additional funding to serve all students eligible for the State Need Grant

Here’s what we know about our kids: They all have assets. Every one of them has talent. They are not widgets. They want to know that what they’re learning has meaning. And they want you to know their names. For all the difficulty we ascribe to changing education policy, it’s really pretty simple:

  • Foundational skills that transfer with them to careers
  • Access to information about possible career choices
  • Individualization
  • Applied learning or relevance
  • And adults who care about them

Speaking of caring adults, none of my success would have been possible without great teachers. Research consistently shows that a great teacher has the single biggest impact on whether a student will succeed. I know this from personal experience, and I thought you might appreciate these photos from my education path:

League of Education Voters CEO Chris Korsmo's education path

Spring Day at Beloit College was a huge day of fun. There were no classes, and air band contests were the order of the day. Guess which band we were and who I was? I believe the year was 1983. I’m holding a toilet brush, in case you’re curious. For the record, the brush was brand-new.

I couldn’t have made it to Beloit without support from my favorite teacher, Sue Remley. I had her twice for math in high school and she took me under her wing. I could tell she was paying attention, which is why I did not want to let her down.

Her expectation for me was a motivating factor in applying to and going to college, because she let me know when the SATs and ACTs were. She even asked me who I was sending them to. She had 150 kids a day, in six or seven classes. And she knew everybody. I wasn’t the only person she was talking to. I wasn’t the super special kid. Everybody was super special. And that was cool.

Wouldn’t it be great if every student had a story about a favorite teacher, and every student had access to great teachers from early learning through higher education to help them along their education path? Call your legislators and encourage them to support the full education continuum at 1-800-562-6000. If you need help finding your legislators, just click here.

 

#MyEdPath

Posted in: Closing the Gaps

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Education Advocate March 2017

ED Advocate, League of Education Voters Newsletter, March

Greetings

Chris Korsmo
Chris Korsmo, CEO

The Washington state legislative session is at its “official” mid-point, as bills introduced in the House and Senate must be passed out of their chamber of origin to have a chance of making it to the Governor’s desk. See the latest on our Bill Tracker. And negotiations to solve the McCleary education funding conundrum have begun in earnest. To play along at home, you can see a side-by-side of fiscal elements of the House, Senate, and Governor’s K-12 funding plans here.

Also, LEV interviewed Senator Hans Zeiger, chair of the Senate Early Learning & K-12 and Education Committee, on what he sees as priorities for the McCleary solution, and we’re hosting a free Lunchtime LEVinar March 21 on how early learning fits into the education continuum.

Read below for more about our work.

Thanks for all you do for kids. We couldn’t do it without you.

Chris Korsmo signature

 

 

Chris Korsmo

2017 Washington state Regional Teachers of the Year Kendra Yamamoto and Elizabeth Loftus - League of Education Voters

League of Education Voters 2017 Annual Breakfast

Please join us for our seventh annual LEV Breakfast on Thursday, March 30, a celebration of Washington’s teachers and an engaging conversation on how we can advocate to put great teachers in front of our kids who need them most. Featured will be 2017 Regional Teacher of the Year recipients Kendra Yamamoto and Elizabeth Loftus on how great teachers are the key to student success. Read more

Special thanks to our sponsors: Anonymous, Microsoft, Boeing, The Seattle Times, Workhouse Creative, Vulcan Inc., College Success Foundation, ECONorthwest, K&L Gates, and GOBE Design + Production.

State Senator Hans Zeiger - League of Education Voters

Podcast Interview with State Senator Hans Zeiger

League of Education Voters Communications Director Arik Korman sat down with Hans Zeiger, Chair of the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee, to discuss why he decided to run for office, how he transitioned from the House to the Senate, and what he sees as priorities for the McCleary education funding solution. Listen here

Campaign for Student Success - League of Education Voters

Stand up for Washington students with the Campaign for Student Success

LEV joined the Campaign for Student Success, a growing coalition with more than 30 members that is standing up for our kids during this legislative session and compelling our elected leaders to act to ensure a quality education for our students that prepares them for success in school, career and beyond. Now is the time for state legislators to hear from you. You can make a difference in making student-focused policies that create a public education system that works for every Washington kid. Read more

Early Learning LEVinar - League of Education Voters

LEVinar: How Early Learning Fits into the Education Continuum

Research repeatedly confirms that students who attend a high quality early learning program perform far better than those who do not. They are more academically successful, able to persevere through adversity, and more likely to graduate from high school. In our free webinar 3/21 at 12:30pm, learn how early learning fits into the education continuum from our partners at the Children’s Alliance. Register here

Sameth Mell, March 2017 League of Education Voters Activist of the Month

LEV’s Activist of the Month

At the League of Education Voters, 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 March: Sameth Mell.

Learn about Sameth’s work advocating for public education, especially when it comes to equitable funding, housing, and immigrant communities. Read more

2017 League of Education Voters 7th Annual Parent & Community Training

Resources from Access, Equity & Excellence: LEV’s 7th Annual Parent and Community Training

Thank you to everyone who attended LEV’s 7th Annual Parent & Community Training! See presentation slides on school discipline, the student weighted education funding formula, Kent’s Summer Splash Summer Reading Program, and resources for students with special needsRead more

Get Involved

COMING UP

March 30, 2017 | LEV 2017 Annual Breakfast, Sheraton Hotel, Seattle


LUNCHTIME LEVINARS

March 21, 2017 | How Early Learning Fits into the Education Continuum, Online webinar


HELP SUPPORT THE LEAGUE OF EDUCATION VOTERS
| Donate online


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Posted in: Education Advocate

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Activist of the Month: Heather Wallace

By MyKaila Young, LEV Intern

January League of Education Voters Activist of the Month Heather Wallace

January Activist of the Month Heather Wallace

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 January: Heather Wallace.

Every New Year brings the opportunity for infinite possibilities. As the year begins, I’m sure you wonder about all the people, events and experiences that will occur over the next 364 days. Being in the right place at the right time opens the right doors to many of the great experiences and people that will make the year worthwhile, and that was the case for Heather Wallace when she crossed paths with LEV Spokane Regional Field Director Sandra Jarrard.

Heather’s background is in sociology, and she is connected with the importance of what many may call “Overall Life Experience.” One thing that stood out to me about Heather was that she’s not concerned with numbers and statistics, but how things really are and ways to address issues that may be viewed as broken or problematic.

For 15 years, she worked mainly with adolescents and then went on to the administrative level of medical management. When she wasn’t making an impact in the way she had envisioned, she did something about it and went back to school and eventually attained a Masters in Communication and Leadership Studies with a focus in dialogue and community development. She currently works at Spokane Regional Health District in a program that she very much enjoys called Neighborhoods Matter. This is a program that focuses on the social determinants of health and how to improve neighborhoods to in turn improve the overall health of the community at large.

Neighborhoods Matter works directly with residents to identify their neighborhood’s health and safety concerns, and then they work to address these concerns in the best way possible. They leverage community resources and focus on how to connect and advocate for safer neighborhoods. Heather says, “Safe neighborhoods mean people are out more and active, which contributes to long-term success.”

With the help of LEV, the Inland Northwest Early Learning Alliance, and the Spokane Regional Health District, Heather put together a conference that focused on realistic accountability. Sometimes quality is better than quantity, and that was surely the case for last month’s Spokids 2020, where the overall experience and discussion contributed to great strides for changes and hopes in 2017. Being lower in numbers but higher in perspectives allowed people to come together in a way that allowed many thoughts and ideas to come together and move forward. Collectively, everyone came up with action plans to help envision how that will look.

With so many organizations working to improve education and support families in need, and all the many changes that occur within various positions at numerous organizations, Heather sees great work being done at many different levels, which is something that is encouraging to us all.

The Spokids 2020 conference was a great way to figure out how similar organizations and families could come together, develop common goals, and leverage partner organizations to work together with the idea of a common community goal. Heather’s common community goal is that all children in Spokane County will achieve social-emotional readiness by kindergarten.

Next month, Heather hopes that word will spread about Spokids 2020’s useful discussions in order to home in on specific projects and areas of focus that will be able to identify success and how conference participants plan to measure progress as a group.

From a public health perspective, social-emotional health serves as the foundation for academic indicators and how likely a child is to succeed. Addressing these issues are imperative because if students are living in unhealthy environments and don’t have access to primary medical care and their basic needs aren’t being met, especially on an emotional and social level, they can’t learn. Heather is advocating for student supports and ways to measure a child’s social-emotional health early in the education continuum, which will help with discipline and a wide range of other issues that teachers have in the classrooms.

A student’s behavior reflects their social-emotional health and not their intelligence. I think we can all agree that we shouldn’t blame the child for the shortcomings of a system that isn’t tailored to the needs of every student, but instead we should blame the lack of resources that prevents the child from moving forward. A start in the right direction until we can get adequate resources for all students is to figure out ways to positively impact a child’s social-emotional health, which is why Heather’s work is vital for communities throughout Washington state.

Heather has three daughters, and she hopes her daughters will find work that they are passionate about. She hopes that they travel and learn about other cultures, and go on to be lifelong learners. Heather says, “A paycheck will only take you so far, and if you can’t find meaning in the work that you are doing, then money will never make you happy.”

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Remembering Senator Andy Hill

By Frank Ordway, guest blogger

Senator Andy Hill - League of Education VotersIt is unfortunate that the first time I return to this blog a year after leaving the League of Education Voters is for the purpose of memorializing Andy Hill, though I can think of few people more worthy of praise and remembrance.

LEV, and my, interactions with Andy were momentous for the organization, me personally and the children of Washington state. I remember my first substantive conversation with Andy. He came to a LEV community event shortly after he was elected. We had not endorsed Andy. He arrived, unannounced, right from the soccer field. We got a cup of coffee and went to the back of the room to talk.

His first words were about how he felt there was a lot work we could do together, and was committed to doing so. We had not endorsed Andy, so I was impressed with his maneuver and commitment. We talked about the various challenges confronting the state in general and in education, and where our values aligned. We agreed on a host of things, and disagreed on many as well. But we pledged to work together on the issues where our values aligned.

Andy Hill never wavered from that pledge, and over time we were able to increase the number of items we worked on together. He played an important role in expanding opportunity in early learning, K12 and higher education. One area where we initially disagreed related to the College Bound Scholarship program, but after long talks about the results, he supported the program. Andy was always open to ideas and data.

All too often, the confines of political party membership limit both politicians and advocates. People refuse to work across the aisle; people refuse to give credit to members of parties they oppose, even when they are right. I, and LEV, was able to escape this trap with Andy and get meaningful things done for the students and parents of Washington state in a bi-partisan fashion.

He was the model of quiet, determined leadership. Anchored in his values, he knew the right thing to do for him and was comfortable with his decisions, even when they were not in alignment with his party or advocates like me. I will always remember and be thankful for that attribute.

In my last conversation with Andy, which was regrettably via text, I told him I was praying for him and his family. I also told him to kick cancer’s ass. In addition to thanking me, he said, “That’s my plan.”

He may have lost the battle against cancer. All one can do is control what you can and, where Andy had influence, our state benefited greatly.

We will miss you Andy, but your legacy and approach to public service will be remembered by all of us lucky enough to work with you.

With great admiration and respect,

Frank

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