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Activist of the Month: Vanessa Hernandez

August Activist of the Month Vanessa Hernandez and family

August Activist of the Month Vanessa Hernandez and family

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 August: Vanessa Hernandez.

The Every Student Counts Alliance (ESCA) is a new collaboration between organizations and individuals in Spokane working to end the overuse of suspension and expulsion in Spokane Public Schools and to eliminate disparities in rates of suspension and expulsion of students of color and students with disabilities.  LEV is part of the Alliance, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and its Youth Policy Director, Vanessa Torres Hernandez.

As Vanessa explains, “The Spokane district has discipline rates that are some of the highest in the state, disproportionately applied to students of color, Native American students, and students with special needs.  Spokane has a lot of challenges, and making a difference in this community will impact the lives of thousands of students and set a positive example for the rest of the state.”

One of the primary goals of the Alliance is to promote positive and restorative school cultures, where teachers and students feel equally supported, individual needs are met and voices are heard.  This ensures that students remain in school on a path toward academic and life success.

Vanessa comes to this work both as a legal advocate and as a former teacher.  A native of Guam, Vanessa grew up in a family devoted to public service.  During college, she taught in after-school and summer school programs throughout the country and also volunteered in public schools.

After receiving her M.Ed. in Teaching and Curriculum from Harvard University, Vanessa began a teaching career at Roxbury Preparatory Charter School in Boston, a charter school serving low-income students of color.  She was moved by how the students who faced steep academic and socioeconomic challenges excelled in a school focused on student and teacher support and achievement.

Taking the experiences, lessons, and memories from teaching in Boston, she transitioned into teaching 7th graders in Washington state.  Her class focused on empowering students with knowledge, developing their skills to understanding bias, evaluate information and advocate for what they believe is right.  Vanessa then transitioned to the University of Washington School of Law, where she participated in a public service law program.

Vanessa first worked with the ACLU as an attorney with a project focused on criminal justice reform and the challenges facing people returning from prisons and jails.  After a short time working with ACLU, she realized that she loved how they employed a long-term view and relentless push for justice, similar to her work ethic and mindset.  This year, she will celebrate her five-year anniversary with the organization.  Vanessa started in the litigation department and moved in October 2015 to the position of Youth Policy Director, where she continues her passion for helping others and using the power of the law to contribute to social movements.

Promoting student success was an important concern  this past legislative session, and it led to  passage of the Opportunity Gap Bill (HB 1541).  Vanessa says it is a great first step in the right direction, in terms of recognizing that a student’s behavior should not affect the education he or she receives.  But she adds that there is a lot more progress to be made.

Vanessa’s hope for the future is to strengthen the fundamental building block of ACLU, ESCA and LEV’s progressive work in education by coalition-building and community.  She says, “These two aspects are incredibly important because change occurs when people are working together, listening to one another, and exposing themselves to the stories and challenges out there.”

Posted in: Activist of the Month

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Spokane International Academy

As our students prepare to head back to school, the League of Education Voters is highlighting a few of the new public charter schools opening this fall. We recently sat down with Spokane International Academy’s founding director Travis Franklin to hear about the school’s opening.

Students enter their classroom at Spokane International Academy.School began at Spokane International Academy on August 26 for students in kindergarten and in grades 1 and 6. Spokane International Academy’s mission is to “empower students with the academic skills, habits of mind and global competence necessary to complete advanced courses in high school and a four-year college degree in order to become leaders who can powerfully transform their communities in the future.” At full capacity, Spokane International Academy will serve grades K–8.

Spokane International Academy is a Cambridge International School and uses VIF International Learning curriculum, along with an inquiry-based learning model, to develop student global understanding and competence. Students will also learn Spanish as they progress through the school, and their parents will have the opportunity learn alongside them at no cost. Plans are also in the works to take students on international trips to Latin America. (more…)

Posted in: Charter Schools

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Making the sky the limit

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? (more…)

Posted in: Closing the Gaps

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A partnership across Washington

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. (more…)

Posted in: Closing the Gaps

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Money Matters in Spokane Public Schools

The League of Education Voters invited leaders from all around Washington state to share their school district’s story on how money matters, and how they are using it to reduce the opportunity and achievement gaps. This post is the second school district perspective in our five-part blog series, “Money Matters. But so does how it’s spent.”

Bob DouthittBy Bob Douthitt, President, Spokane Public Schools

Spokane Public Schools received approximately $18 million in net new state and federal revenue for the 2013–2014 school year to support basic and special education. This represents 5–6 percent of our operating budget, which is slightly over $300 million.

Of the $18 million, $10 million is being used to fund Basic Education obligations that had previously been backfilled by levy money. The remaining $8 million, which represents new revenue, is being used to reduce K–1 class sizes, particularly in high-poverty schools, increase reading intervention teachers to provide support in all elementary schools, and increase certificated staff in middle schools to support both at-risk and high-achieving students. Additional investments for professional development to implement the Teacher-Principal Evaluation Project (TPEP) and new curriculum for Common Core were added to the budget. Our Mentor Teacher Program was restored. Finally, investments in college and career completion initiatives are available in this year’s budget to help support the School District’s T-2-4 goal.

The “T-2-4” goal, which is part of our new five-year strategic plan introduced this fall, says that as much as 67 percent of the jobs in Washington state are expected to require some form of post-secondary training by 2018. The “finish line” for our students should not be merely obtaining a high school diploma, but rather, completing something at the post-secondary level. It could either be technical or military (the T), a 2-year degree (the 2), or a 4-year degree (the 4).

Washington’s students certainly need the additional $3+ billion delineated in HB 2261 And ESHB 2776, and required under the McCleary decision, if they are going to substantially improve their academic achievement and realistically expect to obtain the outcomes we want as a state, and need as a society.

Bob Douthitt was elected to the School Board for Spokane Public Schools in 2007, and has served as president since 2011. A former tax attorney and retail business owner, he has been active in civic affairs throughout his career.

Posted in: Funding

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