South Shore counselor Rachel Powers Carrasco wins Swain Excellence in Education Award

classroom with students raising handsRachel Powers Carrasco, a counselor at the South Shore School in South Seattle, has been awarded The Philip B. Swain Excellence in Education Award. Presented by the Alliance for Education and funded by family and friends through an endowment, the award was established to honor Phillip Swain, who was a passionate advocate for public education throughout his life.

In her nomination, Rachel’s administrators wrote “Rachel Carrasco is a remarkable member of our South Shore family – her exceptional leadership, her long standing relationships with students, families and staff members, and her relentless advocacy for student success reminds her Administrators of the holistic, comprehensive and thoughtful wrap-around services that each child deserves from our schools.”

The yearly award is given to teachers and counselors in Seattle Public Schools who are nominated by colleagues, principals and/or administrators in Seattle Public Schools. All winners have taught for at least three years at a school where, for at least two of the past three years, there is a rate of free and reduced-lunch eligibility of 40 percent or higher. Most importantly, the winners inspire a love of learning in students while helping them reach their highest academic potential, and play a leadership role with their peers in fostering a professional learning community, in which teachers are encouraged to learn from one another through coaching, study groups, peer critique and collaborative problem-solving.

The award also includes a stipend of $1,000 to be used for continuing professional development, for travel associated with such development, for classroom projects or for personal purposes. Rachel, along with the other five award recipients, has also been invited to attend the Alliance for Education Community Breakfast.

A motivated, caring, innovative, knowledgeable, effective teacher in every classroom

This blog post is written by Connie Gerlitz, one of LEV’s key activists and longtime education reform leader and activist, in response to the Seattle School Board meeting on Wednesday.

We cannot confuse our love and respect for good teachers with the fact that their efforts are not universally replicated in our classrooms, and our children are suffering the consequences as evidenced by their inability to pass required standardized tests, graduate from high school, or take a college-level course.

Teachers and school communities need our help and support – collaboration time, clean and safe classrooms, continued monetary incentives, mentorships, remediation plans, praise and heart-felt thanks.

But students need so much more and one of those things (please notice that I said “one of those things”) is a motivated, caring, innovative, knowledgeable, and effective teacher in every one of their classrooms. We can’t fix ineffective parents. We can’t fix severe disabilities. We can’t fix poverty. We can, however, move toward providing them with teachers that prove that they have the ability to educate them. One of the ways (please note that I said “one of the ways”) is to measure student progress and use that progress as a means (please note that I said “a means”) of determining whether a teacher is effective or not.

I for one have really had it with the rhetoric that says that unless we are in a classroom we don’t understand what good teaching is. It is like saying that unless we are the chef in a restaurant we don’t understand what good food is or that unless we can wield the scalpel ourselves that we don’t know whether our appendix was removed successfully or not. Our food is nutritious and tasty. We no longer are the owners of an infected appendix. Our kids can read.

I have also have had it with the rhetoric that says that a teacher can not be held accountable for results if the student is hungry or doesn’t have a pencil or has a learning disability or is unruly. Get the kid some food – there are all kinds of agencies that will help. Get the kid a pencil – there are all kinds of agencies (PTA for one) that will help. Learn how to deal with the disability or find someone who will. Find out what it takes to get the unruly one under control or find someone who will. And, please don’t tell me that I don’t understand how impossible that is.

Here is a quick story: My mother taught school for 40 years and one of her first students was a blind child (also a neighbor). Blind children were not allowed at the time to be in normal public classrooms in the Franklin Pierce School District, but the parents really wanted him to be in my mom’s classroom. First she learned how to Braille. Then she went to the school board and petitioned to allow his entry into her class. When that was allowed, she brailled all of his needed reading material for 10 years. She opened the classroom doors in that district for blind children. He is, to this day, a highly respected and productive member of our community. That was not a part of her contract, by the way. I could go for days with the countless students our daughter has mentored in and out of foster homes, out of gangs, out of drugs, out of lethargy, out of anger management problems. Her kids move along and she would not have a problem with a test that proves it. She would welcome any help she could get if the test showed she was making no progress.

When I complained once to my mom about not liking to teach students who didn’t care about learning, she took me by the shoulders and said, “Honey, get out of teaching. They are the ones that need your help. The others will do it on their own.”

We need teachers that find a way to reach the ones that really need their help – the others will do it on their own. We don’t really need school at all for those bright, enthusiastic, healthy/wealthy, self-motivators – they will do it on their own.

And, I have had it with the rhetoric that says that a teacher’s effectiveness should not be judged on the actual educational progress of her students. What is it we don’t understand about a test that tells us what a child knows at the beginning of the year and what a child knows at the end of the year? Do teachers not give students tests to figure out if they learned a subject? Is there not a test that can tell us, in part, (please note that I said “in part””) if a teacher is successfully imparting the substance of a subject to his/her students?

I love and admire good teachers and I want to pay them and help them and honor them in every way possible and have spent almost 40 years working to improve the lot of teachers so they could properly educate our kids. The system is not working. Our kids are failing. We need change and we need it now but not the change that says that we will install an accountability system that has no teeth. Why, please tell me why, the union is not in favor of finding a way to reward effective teachers and get rid of the also-rans with a system that has some teeth – a test is just one tooth but it is one of the front ones and is noticeable and harmful when missing.

"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.

Becoming Señora Wallace: Identity Crisis: Quack goes the…Dawg?

It’s official — I am headed for Huskydom.

How did I decide? First of all, I just couldn’t justify paying $30K for Seattle U (almost twice as much as the UW Masters in Teaching program costs).

More importantly, UW’s new and improved Secondary Teacher Education Program seems like an appropriate fit. These are the highlights and advantages that convinced me to…gulp…become a Husky:

– I can pursue a second endorsement in ESL right off the bat (once again, it’s cost effective!).

– I will take classes through the summer, and I get to work with a high school summer program!

– After four quarters, I will wrap up “traditional coursework” and have the spring (2010) free to hunt for job openings.

– I will have my own classroom by fall 2010! While I won’t earn my master’s until after my first year of teaching, I will have ongoing support during the first year. Plus, the capstone project I will complete during the second year of the program will prepare me to pursue National Board Certification.

Three years ago during my last term at the University of Oregon, if someone told me I’d be headed to UW to become a teacher, I probably would have laughed. Yet, here I am — less than two months from being a full-time student again, and I can’t imagine pursuing any other path.