Photos!

Parents, kids, and education advocates joined lawmakers and Gov. Gregoire for the signing of ESHB 2261 into law.
Parents, kids, and education advocates joined lawmakers and Gov. Gregoire for the signing of ESHB 2261 into law.

It’s been a busy week!  Education advocates heard Kati Haycock talk about strategies to close the achievement gap on Monday and attended the basic education reform bill signing in Olympia Tuesday.

Check out the photos from these events:

Kati Haycock Town Hall – May 18, 2009

Basic Education Reform bill signing – May 19, 2009

"Our teachers, our voice"

Um, wow.

Bonnie and I just got back from a student rally at Franklin High School, and it was awesome and inspiring and empowering.

Clayton, a Franklin senior, speaks to the crowd
Clayton, a Franklin senior, speaks to the crowd

More than 100 students gathered to protest teacher layoffs during their lunch period. Organized by passionate seniors Sunny Nguyen and Clayton Ruthruff, the students chanted “our teachers, our voice” in support of teachers who recently received layoff notices. Students are frustrated with the layoff policies weighing years in the classroom over demonstrated performance.

Clayton, who came running at the bell with megaphone in hand, opened the rally with, “We want quality teachers, not teachers who have been here longer.” He encouraged students the channel their anger into positive change. Sunny followed, encouraging attendance at the next Seattle School Board meeting. They then pulled Bonnie up, who offered additional words of encouragement.

Sunny asks other students to sign petition cards.
Sunny asks other students to sign petition cards.

The rally ended with students filling out petition cards against the “last hired, first fired” layoff policy and voting for the top school issue. Students overwhelmingly identified “termination of our teachers” as the most pressing issue facing Franklin.

We weren’t the only over-18s in the crowd. A small group of parents and educators joined the students in supporting quality teachers.

No matter how many events like this I attend, I am always inspired — especially when students are acting as their own advocates. So often we speak on behalf of students. It’s nice to hear things straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were.

Op-ed in the Sammamish Reporter

Our statewide field director and resident of Sammamish, Kelly Munn, got an op-ed published in her local newspaper.

The op-ed, Defining basic education, is about the potential impacts to children and schools from the proposed budget cuts.  And, the need to redefine basic education to include what every child needs to succeed in college, job training, work and life.

Kelly is also quoted in the paper’s top story about schools bracing for layoffs.  Here’s an excerpt:

Teacher layoffs would lower the quality of education provided by local schools, according to League of Education Voters State Field Director, and Sammamish parent, Kelly Munn.

“If we had redefined what constitutes ‘basic education’ two years ago, we wouldn’t be in this position,” she said. “We would have protected core education services, and put it in the statute to guarantee certain levels of funding.”

Munn said that they were expecting between 60 and 80 teachers would lose their jobs in Issaquah, with that number dependent on the amount of federal stimulus money that will be made available to offset the cuts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why go to the trouble of collecting endorsements?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why I love education advocacy work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My trip to History (better late than never)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Voting and Volunteerism

City Year kicks off their year of service at Westlake Plaza
City Year kicks off their service year at Westlake Plaza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simran’s testimony, Western Washington Student

Just shy of spending two weeks as an intern here, I attended the State Board of Education meeting in Vancouver yesterday to testify in support of CORE 24. As I watched the number of miles decrease on the exit signs, my thoughts were about how the Board would react to the proposal, if much of the public would attend, if they would be in support of CORE 24, and if the students’ testimonies would be enough to sway the Board.

Upon arriving, I was ushered into a crowded room. I was intimidated by the formality of the meeting, yet comforted by the red shirts scattered throughout the sea of people. As I began listening to one woman testifying against CORE 24, I was taken aback by her opinion of students struggles in education. I can’t get over how people use technical issues like finances as an excuse for not supporting issues like CORE 24 and how easily people forget why Washington State made a board that makes decisions on public education. For the students, of course!

When my turn came, I hope to channel the importance of this decision, and how the Board is responsible for an uncharted number of children who would go through our state’s school system. I wanted to convey how we could set the students up for failure if we weren’t decisive. As another testifier said, “…..not making this decision would be criminal”. I was pleased that the Board seemed eager to listen to the students, and that my words proved to be meaningful.

It was a tangible experience and I found it empowering that people can make a difference despite the obstacles. My goal is to help other students realize that it isn’t difficult to speak out, but it takes having someone to listen that makes it count.

Here is an excerpt from my testimony:

My name is Simran and I’m a public school graduate heading into my third year at Western Washington University. I was fortunate to have parents and an older brother who were familiar with high school four-year plans, and knew how to prepare for success in enrollment in college. By taking AP courses and being highly involved in my high school, I had gained enough experience to ensure my position at a four-year university. I was lucky. We need to make sure that every student is just as lucky . . .

Despite the obvious technical issues that lie ahead with Core 24, it is important for you as a member of the State Board of Education to understand the fundamental theme behind this proposal. This is for the betterment of all students and will give them an opportunity to excel. They are the future of society and I believe that all of you have their best interests in mind. Thank you for continuing to do what you do for all students.