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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: Blog, Early Learning

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Seattle Public Schools Budget Shortfall FAQs

By Jake Vela, LEV Senior Policy Analyst

  • Rear view of class raising hands - League of Education VotersHow big is the budget shortfall for the 2017-18 school year?
    • Seattle Public Schools (SPS) has recently announced that they have an expected budget shortfall of $74 million for the 2017-18 school year. The $74 million shortfall would be about 10% of the $790 million budget recommendation adopted by Seattle Public Schools in 2016-17.
  • Why is Seattle Public Schools expecting a $74 million budget deficit in 2017-18?
    • The expiring of a temporary increase in how much the state allows Seattle to raise through local levies (levy lid) accounts for $30 million of the shortfall. The other $44 million is because the staffing levels agreed to by the district and the unions in the most recent contracts exceeded the funding levels they knew would be available in the 2017-18 school year.
  • Why is the state levy lid being reduced starting January 2018?
    • In 2010 the legislature temporarily increased the amount of money school districts could raise through local levies (levy lid). This increase was intended to be a band aid to allow districts, who were able to pass additional levies, to make-up for the reduction in state funding for education due to the economic recession. This temporary increase is set to expire at the end of calendar year 2017 as specified in the original legislation in 2010.
  • Is SPS expecting a budget deficit in 2016-17?
    • Yes, the 2016-17 budget adopted by SPS expected to spend $35 million more than they anticipated to get from the federal, state, and local sources. SPS was able to do this because they spent $35 million in reserves they had remaining from previous years.
  • Is this approach to budgeting by SPS sustainable?
    • The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction recommends that districts end each school year with reserves equaling at least 5% of their annual budget to be able to address unexpected changes in costs or funding support from local, state, or federal funding sources. To meet the 5% goal SPS would need to maintain a reserve of $39.5 million to remain in good financial health. According to the 2016-17 adopted budget Seattle is expected to end the School year with an ending fund balance of $39.9 million which would be just enough to meet the 5% reserve fund goal.
  • How has the level of state funding changed since the beginning of the recession in 2008?
    • Adjusted for inflation the state is contributing 14% more per-student for K-12 education in fiscal year 2017 than they did in fiscal year 2009.
  • When did Seattle Public School agree to the salary and staffing levels that created this budget deficit?
    • Seattle Public Schools agreed to their most recent collective bargaining agreement in September 2015 after the state had passed their most recent budget in July 2015. The district agreed to this budget following the strike at the start of the 2015-16 school year. The recent and future salary increases and staffing levels agreed to by SPS and the unions in their 2015 Collective Bargaining Agreements set district staffing levels and salary increases through the 2017-18 school year
  • How much of a school district’s budget is dedicated to staffing costs?
    • Over 80% of the average school district’s budget is from staffing costs.
  • What is a reduction in force (RIF) notice?
    • It is the notice a district sends out to existing staff that may need to be laid off if the district will not have sufficient funds in the following school year. Receiving a RIF notice does not mean an employee will be losing their job, but it does mean they will be in a pool of employees that may be laid off.
  • What determines who will receive a RIF notice?
    • The district will send out RIF notices to teachers, support staff, and other staff positions based on the district’s plan to cope with the budget shortfall.
  • What determines which employees do or do not receive a RIF notice?
    • Who does and does not receive a RIF notice is tied to the level of experience an employee has, so teachers with less experience will be more likely to receive a RIF notice than more experienced employees. New and beginning teachers are more often found in schools with higher levels of low-income students. Teachers, staff, and students in these schools will experience more uncertainty in their school building than other schools.
  • Will the budget deficit be solved before the district would need to send out RIF notices?
    • The legislature is expected to invest more money in basic education in the 2017 legislative session, but a final budget isn’t expected to be completed before the district completes their budget preparations for the 2017-18 school year.
  • How much does $74 million mean on a per-student basis?
    • $74 million translates to a budget shortfall of $1,407 per SPS student. The state would need to increase education funding by approximately $1.5 billion for the 2017-18 school year, one-year before the court mandated deadline of 2018-19, for Washington to experience a funding increase of $1,400 per-student statewide.
  • Are other districts experiencing similar budget shortfalls?
    • In the future other districts may communicate to their communities that they are expecting a budget shortfall because of the levy cliff or other budgeting challenges, but as of December 15, 2016 we are not aware of other districts publically stating they expect to have a budget shortfall in the 2017-18 school year.

Posted in: Funding

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Kaysiana and Midheta share their stories

The College Bound Scholarship Program was established by our Legislature eight years ago. College Bound provides scholarships to low-income and foster care students who enroll in middle school, keep their grades up, and stay out of trouble.

More than 212,000 students have signed up, and the program has had a huge impact. Enrollment has shown to positively impact high school academic performance, graduation rates, as well as college going rates and persistence. Of students enrolling in higher education, College Bound students are almost 50 percent more likely to attend a four-year college than low-income students statewide.

We strongly support College Bound and were proud to serve on the state’s College Bound Task Force last year. During the past few years, we have worked with many partners, including the College Success Foundation, Washington State Student Achievement Council, and the Road Map Project, to amplify College Bound’s impact and success and advocate for ongoing state support.

This program changes lives.

We were fortunate to hear the stories of two College Bound students this morning at our annual breakfast. We heard from Kaysiana Hazelwood, a senior at West Seattle High School, and from Midheta Djuderija, a student at the University of Washington.

Below are their incredible stories, told in their own words. (more…)

Posted in: Blog, Closing the Gaps, Development, Events, Higher Education, LEV News

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Parent finds plan disproportionately affects Title 1 schools

This post was written by Fiona Cohen and originally posted on the Our Schools Coalition website on October 1, 2013.

An elementary parent took a close look at the impacts of the proposed border changes on walkability, and found that as they are written now, the changed borders disproportionately affect children living in poverty.

Julie Van Arcken spoke at a community meeting on growth boundaries held in the old Meany middle school on Monday night. A Beacon Hill resident, her address would be moved from Maple Elementary, which is an easy walk, to Van Asselt, which would require a bus ride.

She took a look at which schools would be losing parts of their walk zones if the new boundaries went into effect. Found that 8 percent of Seattle schools would lose part of their walk zones. But when she looked at Title 1 schools—that is, schools with large numbers of low income kids—she found that 28 percent of those had boundary changes that would mean that kids could no longer walk to school. (more…)

Posted in: Blog

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