At 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 Education Advocate of the Month for January: Nikki Lockwood. Read about her advocacy for students with special needs.

January Education Advocate of the Month Nikki Lockwood - League of Education Voters
January Education Advocate of the Month Nikki Lockwood

Nikki Lockwood has served as the lead on parent organizing for the Every Student Counts Alliance (ESCA), a group of advocates, parents, and community leaders seeking to reform school discipline in Spokane, and has worked effectively with Spokane Public Schools to change discipline policies. Parents with students of special needs look to her for advocacy when it comes to their kids.

Nikki first met League of Education Voters Spokane Regional Field Director Sandra Jarrard through ESCA, and they participated in the same Spokane public community meetings. Nikki grew interested in our statewide work, while Sandra wanted to learn about experience of parents and became more involved in ESCA. “Sandra has been helpful in helping me navigate the education system,” Nikki says, “And League of Education Voters has great resources for parents in the ESCA.”

Nikki started school in a private Montessori kindergarten, and her children went through public Montessori. “My parents were teen parents,” Nikki says. “They got divorced when I was 3 years old. I am grateful and impressed that my dad provided that educational experience for me.” She greatly enjoyed the open environment of Montessori, although she remembers wondering in kindergarten what she was supposed to be doing.

After kindergarten, Nikki attended a small Catholic school that no longer exists. She had good relationships with her teachers. “I didn’t want to get in trouble and I did whatever my teachers wanted me to do,” Nikki recalls. “I didn’t want any negative attention.” She did not see herself as a top-performing student, but eventually realized she was doing as well as everyone else in her class.

Nikki’s family moved to Spokane Valley, where she went to neighborhood public schools in the Central Valley School District. “I did what I was supposed to and got good grades, but looking back I realize school didn’t foster creativity,” she says. Nikki did not have the confidence to explore her educational options. She was a quiet student, but was able to connect with a few teachers.

When asked how most teachers viewed her, Nikki recalls, “In 6th grade, there was a boy who was considered gifted – super smart. He and I moved past all the regular English/reading curriculum, and we were in the highest math. He was considered gifted, and I was ‘just Nikki.’ We did lunch cart because the school had no more reading curriculum for us. The school tested my brother to see whether he was highly capable, but not me. Was I not tested because I was a girl and Mexican with brown skin? If I was labeled a different way, would I have been a rocket scientist?” Nikki did not receive much academic support from her family. “Dad got his GED and later an AA degree, and my mom was never able to finish high school,“ she says.

Nikki was first person in her family to attend college. “Environment was a big part of that. Living in Spokane Valley, I was around kids who were going to college, and I was as smart as them, so I made it happen.” she says. “We moved away from extended family so while my parents left positive social supports from family and church, they also moved away from some less positive influences like substance abuse and incarceration that some family members experienced. Teen pregnancy was common.” It was difficult for Nikki’s parents to move away from family, but their children benefited. “I’m forever grateful for that,“ Nikki adds. “I didn’t realize until the past 10 years what a sacrifice that was.”

Upon graduating from high school, considering a career path was challenging. Nikki says, “It took a year and a half into college before I made a decision on a degree. I hoped someone would tell me what I’d be good at. I didn’t see anyone like me in the community as a professional and without exposure to many professions, it was hard to imagine my role and path. I ended up pulling out the college catalog, and decided to pursue being a registered dietitian. I wanted to help people using science and picked something easily defined.”

When asked about how she would change our education system, Nikki says she would like to see more intentional and well-executed inclusion for special needs students in school, as well as in extracurricular activities. “It would look less like DI (designed instruction) classes, and more of modifying curriculum and other needed supports in general ed classes,” she explains. “Some teachers do that, and some parents push for that, but I don’t think it’s the norm, yet.”

Nikki wishes more teachers were prepared for kids with special needs. “Imagine different kids, differently abled, in extracurricular activities of all types, everyone would benefit from that,” she says. In addition, she wants all students to have high expectations and for their school experience to help them reach their full potential. “Our students with special needs need purpose, and can play a role in our community as much as any other student.”

She also feels more educational options and smaller schools would help meet the needs of some students and help to decrease discipline issues. “This would be more costly, but we as a community also pay for the school-to-prison pipeline.”

She recalls, “When I was in school, I never talked to a student with disabilities. I felt uncomfortable about those kinds of students but they were never included; it was a disservice to all of us.” As a parent of a special needs child, Nikki has had much to learn. “As a country, we need to be more inclusive – we all have differences,” she says. “Starting in school is important, as kids are so good at adapting and soaking in information.”

Nikki enjoyed watching the film My Left Foot. “The family was totally inclusive – Christy Brown was a part of everything, including the neighborhood soccer games,” she says. “Everybody benefited from that, and we saw great examples of what is possible.”

On why she works with League of Education Voters, Nikki says, “I think that LEV has statewide recognition – that’s important for addressing issues regarding education. And Sandra (Jarrard) is a kind person, who can talk to a lot of different people. Her respect for parent voice is really appreciated. That’s important because parent perspective can be left out of the conversation.”

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