¡Ayúdame! Ethnic Studies in Seattle Needs You!

If you follow this blog and my work, you know that I am on paid administrative leave and have been under investigation for allegedly violating several policies. Recently, I was informed that my supervisor, Dr. Diane DeBacker, made a formal request to HR that I be removed from my position as Ethnic Studies Program Manager and the superintendent, Denise Juneau, approved the request. I will outline their reasons below, but my attorney and I believe these actions are part of a larger effort to remove me from Seattle Public Schools altogether as a form of retaliation and discrimination against my anti-racist work and activism.

Furthermore, my colleagues and I do not have faith in the district’s ability to maintain an authentic Ethnic Studies Program should I be removed. They have demonstrated their inability to authentically engage in any type of racial justice initiative.

My attorney filed a formal challenge to this decision to demote me and the school board will be hearing the challenge next week. I have a very specific ask for you to help us fight the #ReWhiting of ethnic studies in Seattle:

If you have been impacted by my work and the work of the Ethnic Studies Advisory Group, please contact the school board directors to share what the work has meant to you. You don’t have to be an SPS staff member, student, or family. The more they hear how far-reaching this work is, the better. Please email each of the board members with your experiences:

District I

Liza Rankin

liza.rankin@seattleschools.org

District II

Lisa Rivera-Smith

lisa.rivera-smith@seattleschools.org

District III

Chandra N. Hampson

chandra.hampson@seattleschools.org

District IV

Eden Mack

eden.mack@seattleschools.org

District V

Zachary DeWolf

zachary.dewolf@seattleschools.org

District VI

Leslie Harris

leslie.harris@seattleschools.org

District VII

Brandon K. Hersey

brandon.hersey@seattleschools.org

Why I’m Being Removed

Below are the reasons Dr. DeBacker and Denise Juneau believe I am not fit to be the Ethnic Studies Program Manager, per a letter I received from Juneau. I will respond to each of these claims with my perspective. It’s important to note that my previous supervisor, Dr. Kyle Kinoshita, a Japanese-American educator with an ethnic studies degree, gave me an exceptional performance review before he retired in July of 2019. Dr. DeBacker, a white educator, has admitted to the Ethnic Studies Advisory Group that she knows very little about racial equity or ethnic studies, but feels she can determine who is best for the job.

Reason 1: I am untruthful and lack integrity.

Reason 2: I contacted school board Directors directly without permission from my supervisor.

Reason 3: I don’t collaborate well with people I think are racist, and therefore am stalling the work of ethnic studies. A quote from Dr. DeBacker’s HR request, “Ms. Castro-Gill has repeatedly failed to collaborate with individuals and groups, especially those individuals and groups which she believes are racist.

Let’s break it down, shall we?

Integrity

In July I was notified about a harassment, intimidation, and bullying (HIB) complaint against me by a teacher whom I’ve never met and at the time didn’t know the name of. Their complaint was that I was cyber-bullying them. This complaint was based on the fact I shared a post on FB that included a 911 call the teacher made. The HR investigation into the complaint found that I did not engage in any activities that fall under SPS’s HIB policy; however, they found that I did violate a policy about being deceitful during the investigation interview. They believe – though they can’t prove – that my testimony “lacked candor.” This is 100% of the “evidence” Superintendent Juneau and Dr. DeBacker base their claim for Reason 1 above on.

This completely ignores and erases my years of work in SPS as a teacher and administrator. It erases the awards I’ve won that include integrity as criteria. It ignores all of my prior performance reviews which include rating integrity. Here is what Dr. Kinoshita had to say about integrity on my most recent performance review in which he scored me a 5 out of 5:

Ms Gill [has] a strong moral compass that assists in decision making. As she moves into the realm of developing other leaders for this work, modeling the capacities that she hopes others to emulate will rise in importance. As well, communicating honestly to other leaders in the district will continue to be important in helping SPS to develop its own compass for authentic racial equity.

I lack integrity because Denise Juneau needs me to, not because there is any evidence of it. As Dr. Kinoshita states in an interview I conducted with him, “However, in fact, what’s actually happened in this effort is that [some] top district leaders have actually treated this as something that is threatening, and so, therefore, has put limits upon the entire initiative, and put limits on all the stakeholders.” I have become a threat, which makes me a target.

Contacting the School Board

I only have one thing to say about this. Well, maybe two.

First – School board members are elected officials, and I have a right to contact them about anything I want.

Second – In a Curriculum and Instruction Committee meeting, then Board President (to whom the superintendent reports), Leslie Harris, very pointedly told Dr. DeBacker that she wanted me to continue contacting the board and she didn’t appreciate Superintendent Juneau telling me I couldn’t. So, I kept contacting the board.

Collaboration

Again, I want to quote Dr. Kinoshita’s most recent performance review in which he scored me a 4 out of 5 for collaboration (prior to the Ethnic Studies Summer Institute discussed below):

Ms. Gill has learned to leverage already-existing relationships to good end to accomplish the large amount of work volume this year. The above-mentioned partnership with DREA [Department of Racial Equity Advancement in SPS] and the CRE [Seattle Education Association’s Center for Racial Equity] has resulted in not only major professional development accomplishments, but access to hundreds of SPS teachers. Racial Equity Team Institutes and Black Lives Matter observances [which I have co-led with the aforementioned groups] have influenced a broad section of teachers and helped provide them conceptual knowledge as well as language to discuss race, racism, and privilege. She has built a cohesive Ethnic Studies Advisory [Group], which is committed and dedicated to developing curriculum. The team have benefitted from your guidance in developing quality curriculum products that will be ready for the adoption process. The participants, already strong in their beliefs when they volunteered, now also have become advocates for ethnic studies and what it stands for. Ms. Gill has also forged ties with Seattle’s burgeoning number of ethnic community organizations, connections that Seattle Public Schools has never had*. She connected with their long-standing desire to dislodge the Eurocentric curriculum monopoly in SPS. These connections have resulted in credibility for the ethnic studies effort, and community engagement in review of the curriculum. These ties should continue to be cultivated as a means to strengthen the perspective of the curriculum. Another important area of collaboration that has begun is the beginnings of joint projects with the other subject area managers in CAI, which will go far in extending the reach of ethnic studies to SPS students, and help with the transformation away from the exclusively Eurocentric content. These connections have great potential to leverage ethnic studies, and they should be carefully cultivated.

*emphasis added

Of all the accusations lobbed against me, this is the most demonstrably false. I mean, look at the picture for this post – it consists of educators, students, and families that I’ve worked with over the past several years. But I don’t collaborate? If I were to go back into prior years of performance reviews, I could share with you similar feedback from former supervisors. I have consistently scored 4s and 5s on collaboration. This also doesn’t take into consideration the award I was given by the NAACP for collaborating with the NAACP and other educators on the initial push for ethnic studies in SPS. It doesn’t take into consideration me being named Teacher of the Year for the collaborative work between SPS, community organizations, and SEA to build the ethnic studies program while I was still teaching full time. It completely ignores the level of collaboration it took for me to single-handedly organize a two-week long PD in collaboration with the following people and organizations:

The Ethnic Studies Advisory Group

SEA’s Center for Racial Equity

SPS Culturally Responsive Teacher Leadership Cadre

Seattle University

The NAACP Youth Council

Families of Color Seattle

Dr. Wayne Au, UW Bothell

Dr. Nan Ma, Bellevue College

Dr. Gonzalo Guzmán, UW Seattle

Dr. LaTaSha Levy, UW Seattle

Rayann Kalei’okalani Onzuka of Huraiti Mana and Wing Luke Museum

Sharon H. Chang. Author and Activist

Dr. Django Paris, UW Seattle

Naho Shioya, Teaching Artist

The complaints outlined in Dr. DeBacker and Juneau’s letters come mostly from white women whose feelings were hurt that I pointed out racist actions. I have never called anyone a racist, as is suggested by Dr. DeBacker. I have pointed out racist events. For example, I never called anyone in Communications a racist. I said that a white woman taking over the work of educators of Color – while I was on vacation – without discussing it with me or my supervisor, Dr. Kinoshita – was a form of institutionalized racism. I didn’t even find out this happened from Carri Campbell and her crew. While I was on vacation I received a text from one of the members of the web developing team we had hired letting me know that Communications had taken over the project.

Another example is the appropriation of our work by HR, specifically Lindsey Berger and Dr. Clover Codd. Lindsey asked to meet with me after our (very successful) Ethnic Studies Summer Institute to learn more about my work. Lindsey outright stated in this meeting, “Clover and I are trying to figure out how you got 100 people to give up two weeks of their summer without giving them any incentives. We have to bribe people to come to our PD.” We had a good chat and did some relationship building. Lindsey asked how she could support our efforts. I told her I needed a staff. Next thing I know, I get an email from Lindsey saying my PD work was being presented in an HR meeting by Uti Hawkins, a member of DREA who has not at all been involved in the ethnic studies work in SPS. Lindsey was writing to ask if I’d like to attend and observe the presentation! That’s when I responded that they were appropriating the work of educators of Color and tokenizing Uti, a woman of Color, as the mouthpiece for work Uti’s not familiar with. I never called anyone racist, but if that’s not appropriation, I don’t know what is.

Finally, more “evidence” I don’t collaborate is that I “bully” and “shame” families and colleagues. Anyone who has done racial justice work knows that just mentioning race or racism equates to bullying for a lot of folks. No person can do this work without a handful of people calling them a bully. That’s just an occupational hazard. It’s worthwhile to note that of all the people saying I’ve bullied or shamed them, all are white except one and the parents making claims against me are complaining about my off-the-clock social media activity. In the instance where a WOC says I shamed her by criticizing a PD she developed, I wasn’t even the person criticizing it. Several of my colleagues criticized it and asked for my advice. I agreed with them. They sent an email and cc’d me on it. No complaint was made against my colleague who wrote the original email, but a HIB was filed against me.

Target Practice

This is a targeted attack. There’s no other way to look at it. It’s clear from the evidence that I collaborate exceptionally well with people, communities, and organizations of Color – a skill most in SPS leadership lack. I have proven the “culturally responsive” leadership Superintendent Juneau pretends to be about, but I’m unfit for the job because some white womens feelings were hurt. Sound familiar?