I didn’t have the most conventional childhood. As an Army brat, home was all over the country – from Nevada to Tennessee, and a bunch of places in between. Since I never spent more than a couple years at any school, I didn’t have a lot of guidance from my teachers. That all changed when we settled in Washington state my freshman year.
Unlike some of my friends, college had not been driven into my head from an early age – my parents did not have access to higher education – but they instilled in me a strong work ethic that’s led me to where I am today: ready to receive my high school diploma as part of the first graduating class of Summit Olympus, a public charter high school in Tacoma. Read More
I remember reading the disheartening news about the Washington’s state Supreme Court decision to overturn the legality of charter schools in 2015 from afar. I was aghast. At the time, I was living and working in the K-12 education space in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but I was closely following the developments in Washington for several reasons:
Public opinion had spoken in favor of charter public schools: Washington voters had passed Initiative 1240, an initiative designed to establish a charter public school sector in Washington.
Washington’s charter law was strong: Washington legislators had taken advantage of the 41 other states that had authorized charters to create best-in-class statutes and regulations to govern charter schools and their growth across the state.
There was strong demand from parents, who were expressing the urgent need for high-quality public school options for their children: Over 1,000 students and families eagerly enrolled to attend new charters in Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane.
High quality school leaders were leading the movement: You would be hard pressed to find any state in the country starting off with a stronger group of pioneering leaders than in Washington. An army of educational leaders from across the state and country joined forces to make a bold vision for Washington’s new public school sector a reality.
These seemed like the right conditions for a strong charter sector that would respond to Washington’s educational inequities and provide struggling students with new, high-quality, and innovative school models… Read More
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 November: Michele Johnston.
Arthur Ashe said, “One important key to success is self-confidence, and the key to self-confidence is preparation.”
Growing up, Michele Johnston received what many would consider to be a decent education. She attended a private Catholic school for primary, was home-schooled in 5th grade, and went on to public junior high and high schools. She attended North Idaho College and earned her degree from Eastern Washington University in microbiology. Reflecting back on her schooling, she remembers it as not being very stimulating. She says, “It was a lot of just teaching to the tests.” The vital missing component was an emphasis on critical and creative thinking. “Socially it was good – I just wasn’t engaged in the academic part.”
The way in which we understand the world is primarily rooted in the way that we are taught to think critically about situations and problems. In turn, these processing and thinking skills help us make decisions that have the potential to impact our life in positive and negative ways. If students are only taught to take a test, then what have they really learned to help them get through the next phase of life? If this piece is missing, how can we expect students to really prosper and grow as lifelong learners and truly be ready to succeed in college and beyond?
Michele’s hope for her six-year-old daughter currently attending charter public school Spokane International Academy (SIA) is that as her daughter progresses in her education through the K-12 system, she will always be excited about learning, not only at school, but throughout her life. The goal of education is to show students how learning is a lifelong skill and experience. “I love SIA,” Michele says. “SIA helped my daughter overcome her shyness, gave her a new confidence to engage with people and advocate for herself, and it has changed how she feels about learning and school.”
Michele believes that every child deserves to have a similar, if not greater, experience with their teachers in a way that helps them transcend any personal barriers that may prevent them from being comfortable and confident enough to learn. As a result, Michele has made over 200 phone calls and sent nearly 200 emails to lawmakers encouraging them to support charter public schools and school choice. She has reached out to Superintendent of Public Instruction candidates Erin Jones and Chris Reykdal, and even did phone banking for Senator Steve Litzow, chair of the Education Committee.
Michele worries that our public school system doesn’t adequately prepare students to earn post-secondary credentials. “We’re sending our young adults to college to pay a university price tag for a high school education,” she says, referring to the need for many students to take remedial classes. “Most students take on a substantial amount of debt in order to stay in college, and it’s not fair for them to spend a year catching up on skills they should have been able to master in high school.”
Michele’s commitment to education is driven by a desire for an innovative system designed to meet the needs of every child. Michele says, “Our current education model was conceived in the industrial age. Since then, we’ve seen huge advances in transportation, electronics, and even phones – but most schools are still operating like they did 100 years ago.” Her vision for a newly designed education system involves an environment where every teacher and student has the autonomy to teach, and learn, the way that works best.
Great things happened in Olympia for kids this year. Monumental things. And I’m going to celebrate here. So if you want to fill up your emotional bucket with some extra happy today, read on.
After unprecedented funding investments in schools last session, and new money pre-spent before legislators arrived this session in Olympia on necessary emergencies such as wildfires and unexpected prescription drug costs for WA residents, “manage your expectations” was the refrain to all advocates.
We didn’t. And our kids were prioritized. I’ll provide proof. In case this is as much extra ‘happy’ as you need today and you don’t need details before moving on, I am going to say thank you first. Thank you to the hard working legislators who balance the weight of so many issues – present & future. Thank you to the community members who told stories of their kids and talked about their dreams in Olympia. Thank you for listening, acting, and collaborating. Tim McGraw sings “always stay humble and kind.” I witnessed a lot of humanity this year in the halls and offices of the Capitol. This is the result:
For our littlest learners, additional money was invested in family child care providers so that the teachers can improve the quality of facilities and curriculum offered our precious preschoolers, thus assuring they are ready to thrive in kindergarten.
For our K-12 kids, we now have money to make sure we will no longer be suspending or expelling students for discretionary offenses, and will have better statewide data on demographics of kids to make sure the system is working to keep all students on-track and in school. This will happen in part through new discipline frameworks and trainings which are being developed sensitive to culture and positively supporting all students’ growth. Social Emotional Learning is a proactive way to reduce stress and behaviors associated with it, leaving teachers more time to teach, and students more time to learn. Pilots are being tracked statewide.
In addition, policy was passed aimed at providing in-school support for foster youth, including better information sharing with schools and more adult support to help students navigate frequent changes in school buildings. Our homeless student population is getting increased identification for schools, which will help with in-school support for learning and community partnerships for family housing stability. The early data from Tacoma housing/school partnerships shows fantastic academic gains for these students as well as an increased percentage of family member employment. Grants for 15 school districts are now available.
In the individualizing learning and choice bucket, we also re-approved (3rd time) charter schools. Charters are one piece of the puzzle of allowing innovation and flexibility to schools so that kids’ needs and academic growth stay at the center of the conversation. These non-profit public WA charter schools are operating under the top 5 most rigorous state accountability laws in the US.
Finally, and for the first time, near vision screenings will be offered when distance vision is tested in elementary and middle schools statewide. Seeing the numbers and letters on a page correctly dramatically increases academic potential. Duh. This was 17 years in the making, and the victory for kids happened this year.
In higher education, a new college savings plan for families passed as an alternative and addition to the GET program. Another law now assures that higher education students who have learning accommodations will no longer have to wait up to 6 months for those accommodations to start, which provides every student what they need to be successful right away. Yes!
Additionally, more money was allocated to get the students in teacher prep programs scholarships for high-need teaching positions. Test fees for teacher candidates can now be waived, and a central data system is being set up so that districts can see what teachers are out there applying for jobs in Washington. When beginning teachers get to schools, there is now money for peer mentor programs to support teacher quality and retention. Retired teachers are also now allowed to be re-hired as substitutes, which will help the shortage and assure students continue to learn even if their teacher is not in the building that day. And new money is available to train the classified staff who also work with groups of students, so that they have the tools to be a part of the core teaching team.
I have more good news. Next session amazing things will happen for kids. The work has already begun to provide ample opportunities for every student to have a meaningful and personalized learning experience. More options. More choice. More student understanding of how what is learned leads to a successful, prosperous future while raising up WA communities and finding new ways to make WA businesses thrive. That’s my North Star. We will get all kids the tools they need to discover their passions and proudly take leadership in growing WA. That vision keeps my bucket full. Tim, I’ll add one word: “always stay strong, humble, and kind.”
To save public charter schools in the 2016 legislative session, LEV partnered with the Washington State Charter School Association. It took a whole lot of people to do the job. And many stepped up repeatedly to make a call or a bunch of calls, sign a petition or send an email.
Below are some statistics on what WA Charters’ Act Now for Washington Students campaign accomplished. There is no doubt that this campaign had an incredibly robust grassroots effort that was organized, efficient, and one that made an incredible impact on legislators.
The campaign did the following:
From February 8 through March 10, at least ten callers every day made 15 calls each. And other calls happened organically. These calls were made in Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane, East King County, Pasco, Yakima and Walla Walla for a total of 8105 calls.
WA Charters also organized two rallies in Olympia. The November 11 rally brought 400 people on campus and the February 25 rally brought 575 people to the state Capitol.
Approximately 45 people testified in the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education committee, 70 people testified in the Senate Ways and Means committee and 90 people testified in the House Education committee.
Two parents attended 74 meetings with legislators.
At least five parents visited the state Capitol every day from February 29 to March 9.
Parents made and delivered four dozen cookies to 15 legislative offices.
Parents created and delivered over 300 session survival kits.
Parents created and delivered nearly 200 Thank You kits to legislative aids.
WA Charters mailed over 300 holiday cards to legislative offices and mailed over 300 Valentine’s Day cards to legislative offices.
Parents organically organized six big phone bank nights.
Hundreds of phone calls a day went to the Governor’s office since March 10, the day the bill was passed in the Senate. These calls were made from parents, students, family members and tireless advocates from Seattle, East King County, Pasco, Yakima, Spokane and Tacoma.
Finally, 300 letters were signed and mailed from Yakima asking Governor to sign public charter schools Senate Bill 6194.
LEV would like to extend a huge Thank You to the Washington State Charter School Association and the thousands of volunteers who stepped up for our kids. We couldn’t have done it without you!
Public charter schools Senate Bill 6194 is going to become law! We are excited for our kids to have more options for an excellent education. This is a big victory for our kids and their families! Thank you to everyone who helped make this possible.
On March 9th, 2016, the House of Representatives amended and passed ESSB 6194, a new charter school law. On March 10th, 2016, the Senate concurred with the House’s changes and passed the bill. The bill now awaits Governor Inslee’s signature. The bill reenacts provisions of Initiative 1240 and makes changes to the charter school system to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling on charter schools in September of 2015. This bill will allow the current schools to stay open and new schools to be established in the future, providing more options for Washington’s students and families.
It is just three weeks until our Annual Breakfast! Thank you to those who have already registered to attend. If you have not had a chance to register yet, there’s still time!
If you are following the grand finale of our legislative session, make sure you have our education bill tracker bookmarked. You can also sign up to receive my Weekly Roundup Friday emails.
Finally, I would like to extend a big thank-you to all of you who have volunteered over the past 60 days. You make our work come to life.
Thanks for all you do for kids. We couldn’t do it without you.
Don’t miss our Annual Breakfast
Our 2016 Annual Breakfast to support the LEV Foundation will be held Thursday, March 31, at the Sheraton Seattle Hotel.
Join us for an inspirational conversation about how we can match our kids’ interests and skills with the needs of today’s workforce with Mike Sotelo, founder of Consolidar and co-founder of the Combined Ethnic Chamber, Dr. Amy Morrison Goings, President of Lake Washington Institute of Technology, and Will Sarrett, Director of NewTech Skill Center in Spokane, moderated by Colleen McAleer, President of the Washington Business Alliance. Learn more
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: Darcelina Soloria.
Read about Darcelina’s work advocating for public education — especially what public charter schools can do for our kids — and learn about her personal journey. Read more
Last night, the House voted 58-39 to pass Senate Bill 6194, a long-term solution to keep public charter schools open. The bill is off to the Senate for concurrence and then to Governor Inslee’s desk. Here are the legislators who voted yes, in case you would like to thank them. See the list
Find out the latest on McCleary, public charter schools, the supplemental budget, opportunity gap closure, and which proposals are alive and which are dead.
Jene Jones, League of Education Voters Government Relations, answered your questions on what we can do to help our goals this session reach the finish line. We were also joined by Senators Mark Mullet (D-5) and Ann Rivers (R-18). Moderated by our State Field Director, Kelly Munn. Watch the archived recording
March 31, 2016 | 2016 Annual Breakfast, Sheraton Hotel, Seattle
Last night, the House voted 58-39 to pass Senate Bill 6194, a long-term solution to keep public charter schools open. The bill is off to the Senate for concurrence and then to Governor Inslee’s desk. Here are the legislators who voted yes, in case you would like to thank them: