By MyKaila Young, LEV Intern
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 January: Heather Wallace.
Every New Year brings the opportunity for infinite possibilities. As the year begins, I’m sure you wonder about all the people, events and experiences that will occur over the next 364 days. Being in the right place at the right time opens the right doors to many of the great experiences and people that will make the year worthwhile, and that was the case for Heather Wallace when she crossed paths with LEV Spokane Regional Field Director Sandra Jarrard.
Heather’s background is in sociology, and she is connected with the importance of what many may call “Overall Life Experience.” One thing that stood out to me about Heather was that she’s not concerned with numbers and statistics, but how things really are and ways to address issues that may be viewed as broken or problematic.
For 15 years, she worked mainly with adolescents and then went on to the administrative level of medical management. When she wasn’t making an impact in the way she had envisioned, she did something about it and went back to school and eventually attained a Masters in Communication and Leadership Studies with a focus in dialogue and community development. She currently works at Spokane Regional Health District in a program that she very much enjoys called Neighborhoods Matter. This is a program that focuses on the social determinants of health and how to improve neighborhoods to in turn improve the overall health of the community at large.
Neighborhoods Matter works directly with residents to identify their neighborhood’s health and safety concerns, and then they work to address these concerns in the best way possible. They leverage community resources and focus on how to connect and advocate for safer neighborhoods. Heather says, “Safe neighborhoods mean people are out more and active, which contributes to long-term success.”
With the help of LEV, the Inland Northwest Early Learning Alliance, and the Spokane Regional Health District, Heather put together a conference that focused on realistic accountability. Sometimes quality is better than quantity, and that was surely the case for last month’s Spokids 2020, where the overall experience and discussion contributed to great strides for changes and hopes in 2017. Being lower in numbers but higher in perspectives allowed people to come together in a way that allowed many thoughts and ideas to come together and move forward. Collectively, everyone came up with action plans to help envision how that will look.
With so many organizations working to improve education and support families in need, and all the many changes that occur within various positions at numerous organizations, Heather sees great work being done at many different levels, which is something that is encouraging to us all.
The Spokids 2020 conference was a great way to figure out how similar organizations and families could come together, develop common goals, and leverage partner organizations to work together with the idea of a common community goal. Heather’s common community goal is that all children in Spokane County will achieve social-emotional readiness by kindergarten.
Next month, Heather hopes that word will spread about Spokids 2020’s useful discussions in order to home in on specific projects and areas of focus that will be able to identify success and how conference participants plan to measure progress as a group.
From a public health perspective, social-emotional health serves as the foundation for academic indicators and how likely a child is to succeed. Addressing these issues are imperative because if students are living in unhealthy environments and don’t have access to primary medical care and their basic needs aren’t being met, especially on an emotional and social level, they can’t learn. Heather is advocating for student supports and ways to measure a child’s social-emotional health early in the education continuum, which will help with discipline and a wide range of other issues that teachers have in the classrooms.
A student’s behavior reflects their social-emotional health and not their intelligence. I think we can all agree that we shouldn’t blame the child for the shortcomings of a system that isn’t tailored to the needs of every student, but instead we should blame the lack of resources that prevents the child from moving forward. A start in the right direction until we can get adequate resources for all students is to figure out ways to positively impact a child’s social-emotional health, which is why Heather’s work is vital for communities throughout Washington state.
Heather has three daughters, and she hopes her daughters will find work that they are passionate about. She hopes that they travel and learn about other cultures, and go on to be lifelong learners. Heather says, “A paycheck will only take you so far, and if you can’t find meaning in the work that you are doing, then money will never make you happy.”
By Frank Ordway, guest blogger
It is unfortunate that the first time I return to this blog a year after leaving the League of Education Voters is for the purpose of memorializing Andy Hill, though I can think of few people more worthy of praise and remembrance.
LEV, and my, interactions with Andy were momentous for the organization, me personally and the children of Washington state. I remember my first substantive conversation with Andy. He came to a LEV community event shortly after he was elected. We had not endorsed Andy. He arrived, unannounced, right from the soccer field. We got a cup of coffee and went to the back of the room to talk.
His first words were about how he felt there was a lot work we could do together, and was committed to doing so. We had not endorsed Andy, so I was impressed with his maneuver and commitment. We talked about the various challenges confronting the state in general and in education, and where our values aligned. We agreed on a host of things, and disagreed on many as well. But we pledged to work together on the issues where our values aligned.
Andy Hill never wavered from that pledge, and over time we were able to increase the number of items we worked on together. He played an important role in expanding opportunity in early learning, K12 and higher education. One area where we initially disagreed related to the College Bound Scholarship program, but after long talks about the results, he supported the program. Andy was always open to ideas and data.
All too often, the confines of political party membership limit both politicians and advocates. People refuse to work across the aisle; people refuse to give credit to members of parties they oppose, even when they are right. I, and LEV, was able to escape this trap with Andy and get meaningful things done for the students and parents of Washington state in a bi-partisan fashion.
He was the model of quiet, determined leadership. Anchored in his values, he knew the right thing to do for him and was comfortable with his decisions, even when they were not in alignment with his party or advocates like me. I will always remember and be thankful for that attribute.
In my last conversation with Andy, which was regrettably via text, I told him I was praying for him and his family. I also told him to kick cancer’s ass. In addition to thanking me, he said, “That’s my plan.”
He may have lost the battle against cancer. All one can do is control what you can and, where Andy had influence, our state benefited greatly.
We will miss you Andy, but your legacy and approach to public service will be remembered by all of us lucky enough to work with you.
With great admiration and respect,
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 September: Felix Vargas.
Retired Colonel Felix Vargas of Pasco, Washington, has taken on the charge of helping the League of Education Voters understand the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) at a local level so that we can ensure that children who need additional support are not denied tutoring services promised by the federal government. Col. Vargas advocates with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), and speaks regularly with Senator Patty Murray’s representatives and the local Pasco School District, which has not yet provided in writing the district’s plans for tutoring services.
About a year ago, Col. Vargas met LEV Community Organizer Ruvine Jiménez at a Pasco Citizens for Better Schools forum to support a school levy and he now meets with Ruvine at least once a week. He has since invited Ruvine to participate in two meetings with Congressman Dan Newhouse. These sessions have provided an opportunity to explain to the Congressman why it is important to maintain ESSA funding for the Tri-Cities region. Col. Vargas is working on what ESSA means for the community, such as adding resources for early learning programs like a pre-K learning center, and looking at how schools provide information and how they are evaluated.
Thanks to his work, the Tri-Cities community now has access to senior levels of leadership in government and education. Deputy State Superintendent Gil Mendoza has recently spoken on two occasions to the community on ESSA. Col. Vargas participated in an OSPI candidate forum in July and is helping to organize another similar forum this fall.
Col. Vargas also meets with a Latino parents’ group monthly to discuss why students are under-performing. He explains, “Beyond the obvious factors of language, culture and socioeconomic standing, we believe that the quality of instruction and teaching credentials have to be assessed and weighed as well. Our parents want a 360-degree review.” He listens closely to what the Latino parents say, and then holds quarterly meeting with the Pasco School District’s Parents Advisory Committee.
Col. Vargas is not shy about talking to anyone. He held concurrent careers in the U.S. Government as a military and civilian officer. He served as a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. State Department and as a U.S. Army Reserve officer. Col. Vargas served two tours of duty as an Army Ranger and Special Forces officer in Vietnam. After retiring from the U.S. government, he entered the corporate world, serving as manager of sales and marketing for an American helicopter company in Mexico City, where he sold helicopters to the Mexican government and the private sector.
From 2006 – 2010, Col. Vargas returned to Washington, DC, to champion education and training opportunities for the newest generation of U.S. military veterans returning from wars in the Middle East. He received a White House appointment as member, then chairman, of the U.S. Advisory Committee for Veterans Business Affairs during this time. In April 2010, he accepted an assignment to work with U.S. and international agencies assisting Haiti following the catastrophic earthquake in January 2010. Col. Vargas lived in Haiti for a year.
In 2012, he returned to his hometown of Pasco, Washington, where his focus now is on his community in the Tri-Cities. He hit the ground running, forming the Consejo Latino (Latino Council) to serve as a discussion group on issues of interest to a diverse and dynamic Hispanic community, getting involved in community policing and economic development of Latino businesses.
Two years ago, Col. Vargas added advocacy for voters’ rights, rights for injured agricultural workers, and education. He started reading and learning about the local education landscape. He recalls, “I was surprised to find out that two of our elementary schools have 98 percent Latino students, and the schools overall are 70 percent Latino in the Pasco district. Times sure have changed.” Col. Vargas was the only Latino in his high school graduating class, and the only other Latino(a) in the school at the time was his younger sister.
Education has now become a core issue for Col. Vargas. He recently met with the superintendent of Educational Service District 123 in Pasco to discuss developments and approach in such areas as early learning and bilingual education. He always expects and looks forward to civil and productive conversation. He says, “I will continue to collaborate with community providers and other partners at the State and Federal levels to seek solutions to the many challenges of education for all students. Let’s keep up the drumbeat.”
By the LEV Policy Team
In the 2017 legislative session, Washington state is poised to make historic investments in basic education. But what will those dollars buy? The current program of “basic education” is not robust enough to meet our “paramount duty” and ensure that all students have the knowledge and skills to compete in today’s economy and participate in our state’s democracy. The upcoming investment provides an unprecedented opportunity to rethink our system of education and the resources and tools at our disposal to provide Washington students with the education promised by our Constitution.
What is required of our educational system will continue to change over time. We need to develop a program of basic education that can evolve based on current and future student needs and a funding mechanism that is flexible enough to support that shifting program. Let’s envision a program of basic education that is aspirational and that creates a new path forward for Washington state. The vision should include best practices, teaching and instruction that closes achievement gaps, supports that allow students to be the best learners, a program that doesn’t start with kindergarten and end with high school, but consists of the full education continuum—early learning through postsecondary.
Ample and equitable funding is necessary to build a robust education system that works for all children. However, money is a tool, not a solution. New dollars should be seen as a tool to improve our system for all students. We believe that this can be done by rethinking how we:
How should we redefine basic education? Well, we don’t have to look far. There are programs and practices across our state that are working but need the proper investments in order to be sustained and spread to other schools and districts. Over the next few months, we’ll share how money can be used as a tool to fix teacher compensation; recruit, retain, and train qualified teachers; and add necessary student supports that yield positive outcomes and close achievement gaps. We’ll also share stories from around the state on how districts, community-based organizations, and citizens are closing gaps and subsidizing “basic education” with local resources. Asking the paramount question: How can money be used to go beyond our current basic education?
Read Part 2 of our McCleary blog series, Teachers: The Most Important Part of Our Education System
The League of Education Voters has worked with the Washington State Department of Early Learning to since its inception to improve access to, and quality of, early childhood education for all Washington kids. We have also worked with Rep. Ross Hunter for many years as a legislator in the House of Representatives, where he has been a steadfast champion for education.
As an organization that believes in a continuum of education for all Washington students, from early learning through postsecondary, we are pleased with Gov. Inslee’s appointment of Ross Hunter as director of the Department of Early Learning. We look forward to working with him to continue growing access to high-quality early learning and working to ensure the strong implementation of the Early Start Act.
After one long legislative session (followed by three special sessions), Governor Inslee signed Washington’s 2015–2017 state budget into law late in the evening on June 30, averting a government shutdown by less than an hour. An unprecedented series of events ultimately delayed sine die until today, but with the true end of our historically long 2015 legislative session at hand, we take a moment to reflect.
What we see in this budget is a more comprehensive investment in education than at any other time in the state’s history. Through their strong investments in public education across the spectrum, early learning through postsecondary, the Legislature has given all Washington’s students more hope for their future.
The League of Education Voters has long argued that a child’s education should be a continuum with seamless transitions from early learning through higher education. We have worked with partners around the state in pursuit of that vision, including with the Cradle through College Coalition. It is gratifying to see the Legislature following through with strategies and investments that support students at all ages. Read More
Access to high-quality early education has been life changing for our daughter, Eva Rose.
That’s how Seattle parent Jessica Colinares describes her daughter’s experience in preschool. Eva’s success—thanks to her access to high-quality early learning—isn’t extraordinary; rather, it’s the norm.
Support has been growing for quality early childhood education throughout Washington state—and across the country.
Many studies show that children in high-quality early learning programs are more prepared for kindergarten, more likely to graduate high school, healthier, more likely to be employed, and report higher income. They are also less likely to repeat grades, be placed in special education, be involved in the juvenile justice system, and commit crimes as adults. High-quality early learning is one of the best ways to close the opportunity and achievement gaps, which are already present by the beginning of kindergarten. Much of high-quality early learning focuses on the social and emotional learning that is so vital throughout a child’s life. Read More
A child’s education should be a continuum with seamless transitions from early learning through postsecondary education. The League of Education Voters (LEV) is pleased to release its vision for an expanded definition of basic education.
Washington’s policymakers have spent much time, money, and intellectual capital trying to overhaul our state’s education funding system—multiple task forces, studies, work groups, legislative efforts—and yet, we lack a plan for ample, equitable, and stable funding. In addition, our definition of “basic education”—what this funding system is supposed to pay for—doesn’t go far enough to prepare our kids for college or career.
The Washington State Supreme Court found that the state was violating its constitutional obligation to amply fund basic education in the McCleary v. State of Washington funding case. Lawmakers were given a 2018 deadline to fix how we fund basic education. The passage of Initiative 1351 to lower K–12 class sizes statewide magnifies the intense pressure on the Legislature to determine a viable funding plan for public education. Though the 2018 deadline looms, the Court found the Legislature in “contempt of court” last fall, giving them until the end of the 2015 legislative session to make significant progress on a funding plan. While the funding issues are paramount to the Court, this time frame provides a unique opportunity to reflect on what our kids really need from our public education system to succeed. Read More
Chris Korsmo, CEO of the League of Education Voters, submitted an op-ed to The Seattle Times‘ Education Lab yesterday. It was published in The Seattle Times print edition on June 20.
In her column, Chris argues that the definition of “basic education” in Washington is too narrow—it does not include early learning or higher education. Read below for an excerpt, or read the entire column online.
At the League of Education Voters, we support an ample, equitable, stable education funding plan. While we supported the re-definition of “basic education” developed in 2009 (it includes smaller class size, full-day kindergarten, transportation, materials and supplies) upon which McCleary is based, we advocated that the definition should also include early learning and higher education.
During the past two years, we have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the current definition of basic education. It is neither ample nor equitable. And thanks to our over-reliance on local levies, it certainly isn’t stable.
We need a definition of basic education that puts students and their learning at the center.