“Seattle Excellence” What’s So Excellent About It?

As I’m preparing to begin my research for my dissertation, I’m required to take a course on strategic planning. My first assignment is to critique the strategic plan of my school district. Y’all know how much I love that. But for real… This is the essay I wrote using best practice by strategic planning experts and change theory principles. Enjoy!

Introduction

            Strategic planning is about the implementation of change. It is a process, not a task, which explains the use of “implementation” instead of “implementing” (Hall & Hord, 2015). Reeves (2009) stated that 70% of strategic plans fail, and he believes this is because organizations fail to view them as processes. Another important factor of successful implementation of strategic plans is leadership style. Top-down, authoritarian approaches tend to fail, whereas collaborative, systematic changes have more success (Fullan, 2014). This essay will analyze the strategic plan for Seattle Public schools using these indicators of success as a framework.

Mission, Vision, and Strategic Plan

            The mission statement for Seattle Public Schools is, “Seattle Public Schools is committed to eliminating opportunity gaps to ensure access and provide excellence in education for every student.” The vision statement is, “Every Seattle Public Schools’ student receives a high-quality, world-class education and graduates prepared for college, career, and community.” The current strategic plan includes four goals: high-quality instruction and learning experiences; predictable and consistent operational systems; culturally responsive workforce; and inclusive and authentic engagement (Seattle Public Schools, n.d.b).

Alignment

In Superintendent Juneau’s statement introducing the strategic plan she said, “This work is not about changing students. It is about changing broken systems and undoing legacies of racism in public education. By actively addressing racism in our educational system, and ensuring students furthest from educational justice thrive, conditions in Seattle Public Schools will improve for all.” However, in the actual language of the goals and measures of the strategic plan, there is no mention of racism or anti-racism (Seattle Public Schools, n.d.a). Furthermore, anti-racism is absent in the mission and vision statements (Seattle Public Schools, n.d.b). There is misalignment between the messaging around the strategic plan and the goals which has the potential to make the implementation challenging and contentious (Hall & Hord, 2015). And though Superintendent Juneau claims the goal is to change systems not students, several of the methods named to monitor implementation is on student outcomes like standardized test scores, which depend on the racist systems she claims to want to change (Seattle Public Schools, n.d.a).

Data and Monitoring

Nearly all of the tools used to collect data and monitor progress of implementation are high-stakes and/or once-per-year measurements including student, family, and staff climate surveys, standardized testing, credits achieved by students, college and university registration, training completion, and staff demographics (Seattle Public Schools, n.d.a). This is contrary to best practice in which monitoring, or assessing, should be frequent and ongoing. As Hall and Hord (2015) pointed out, “Change is a process, not an event” (p. 10). Using data collected annually, or at the end of an event, is an evaluation, not a measurement.

Some methods listed to measure success in the strategic plans are not measurements at all. For example, educators attending trainings is an intervention, not a measurement of implementation, but it is included as a measurement in the strategic plan (Hall & Hord, 2018; Seattle Public Schools, n.d.a). This quote from Reeves (2009) helps explain the difference:

Monitoring. A high monitoring score means that the school conducts consistent and frequent (at least monthly) analyses of student performance, teaching strategies, and leadership practices. In contrast, low monitoring scores are associated with schools that engage in the futile exercise of the educational autopsy—an analysis of last year’s scores long after it’s too late to do anything about them (p. 86).

Interventions occur after collecting baseline data and before collecting data for monitoring their effectiveness. Using the number of teachers engaged in an intervention is not measuring implementation of the goals of the strategic plan (Hord & Hall, 2015).

The misalignment between Superintendent Juneau’s stated purpose and strategic plan goals is also evident in the interventions (inaccurately named measurements). The focus of the intervention for CIAE is culturally responsive teaching which has been widely discredited as an anti-racist initiative. Many experts in the field of anti-racist education and culturally responsive practice reject the belief that culturally responsive teaching, alone, is anti-racist (Castro-Gill, n.d.).

Continuous School Improvement

            The strategic plan does not call out school-level goals and instead uses district-wide goals. This may be helpful as a framework for developing school-level goals, but the generality of the strategic plan may also lead to varying goals across the district. There are over 100 schools in Seattle Public Schools, so individual school improvement plans could look different without a consensus on school-level goals.

The goals of the strategic plan were created without input from classroom teachers and other building-level educators which is more likely to create resistance to change (Fullan, 2014). This, coupled with the fact that the measurement tools to collect data are almost entirely high-stakes or end of year data, means teachers are more likely to disregard any continuous improvement plan based on the district-level strategic plan as being irrelevant to their daily practice. This perceived disconnect could lead to a negative Pygmalion Effect in which teachers do not believe their participation in the strategic plan will influence their students’ academic outcomes (Reeves, 2009).

Conclusion

            In a school district as large as Seattle Public Schools, alignment and clarity are paramount. The superintendent’s messaging to the community does not align with the stated mission and vision statements or the language in the strategic plan. This creates confusion for those who are to implement the goals. Using interventions and evaluative tools to measure success of implementation adds to the confusion about what it is educators in each building are supposed to do and the data they should be collecting for continuous improvement and implementation. Closely aligning stated intent with language in the mission and vision statements and strategic plan, differentiating between interventions and measurements, and naming continuous data collection methods could improve the chances of success for the strategic plan in Seattle Public Schools.

References

Castro-Gill, T. (n.d.). Which comes first? Anti-racism or racial equity. Thoughts on

Racial Justice from an “Activist Teacher”. Retrieved from https://teacheractivist.com/2020/05/03/which-comes-first-anti-racism-or-racial-equity/

Fullan, M. (2014). Leading in a culture of change. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley &

Sons, Inc.

Hall, G. E., & Hord, S. M. (2015). Implementing change: Patterns, principles, and

potholes (4th ed.). Pearson. Retrieved from https://www.pearsonhighered.com/assets/samplechapter/0/1/3/3/0133351920.pdf

Reeves, D. B. (2009). Leading to change; Making strategic planning work. Educational

Leadership, 65(4), 86-87. Retrieved from https://web-a-ebscohost-com.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=1&sid=70a3dc4b-557f-45de-801e-08daaeccd978%40sdc-v-sessmgr03

Seattle Public Schools. (n.d.a). 2019-24 SPS Strategic Plan. Retrieved from

Click to access 2019-24-ApprovedStratPlan.3.27.19.pdf

Seattle Public Schools. (n.d.b). Strategic Plan. Retrieved from

https://www.seattleschools.org/district/district_quick_facts/strategic_plan

¡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?

Which Comes First? Anti-Racism or Racial Equity

image credit: https://iff.org/racial-equity-in-times-of-crisis-lets-interrupt-history/

I recently completed what amounts to a couple of chapters worth of a report on what ethnic studies educators in Western Washington believe they need to implement a successful ethnic studies program. You can read the results on the Washington State Ethnic Studies Now website. One of the discussions sparked by the data I collected is about which comes first – anti-racism or racial equity. The respondents of my interviews believe that anti-racism has to come first because without it, racial equity is just a buzzword. Others in my teacher activist circles believe that racial equity comes first and anti-racism is the end goal. At least one of my friends believes that both can happen at the same time. I’m grateful that I have such thoughtful and critical educators as friends and colleagues. For me, personally, I tend to agree more with the educators I interviewed.

Here’s how the educators I interviewed defined equity, racial equity, and anti-racism:

EquityEvery educator responded that equity means providing access to systems and resources, focusing on groups that are historically and presently marginalized. 

Racial Equity – This term means the same thing as equity, but with a focus on race and acknowledgment of systems of racial oppression.

Anti-racism – This is where there is some variation in opinion among the educators. Every educator used the term “dismantle” in their definition. They all see anti-racism as dismantling racially unjust systems, institutions, practices, and beliefs. A couple educators included capitalism as one system that needs to be dismantled, particularly when it comes to high-stakes testing and standardized, Eurocentric curriculum, and a few white educators included the need to work on their own racism and biases.

In this blog post I want to talk about some differences between terms used in “equity” initiatives in education. I definitely don’t think we can use “equity” to address racial injustice in education. It’s too easily co-opted if it’s not at least “racial equity.” I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, focusing mostly on culturally responsive teaching, but I’m glad I’ve put it off so I can cover some of my new learning and musings. Specifically I want to argue which comes first, anti-racism or racial equity. Ready? Here we go!

Multiculturalism

Yuck. Multiculturalism is a necessary evil. We can’t be anti-racist or teach ethnic studies if we aren’t including some kind of multicultural component in our praxis, but just yuck. I say yuck because TOO MANY people stop there and call it equitable. In fact, while visiting a principal in Seattle to discuss ethnic studies, the principal was compelled to inform me that they “already do ethnic studies.” “Don’t you see the posters of different cultures in the halls? Our staff is very diverse, too.”

index

I worked in collaboration with several colleagues to come up with this definition of multiculturalism and why multiculturalism is problematic on its own.

Multicultural education is frequently content about the cultures of different groups, often groups considered non-white, which creates the idea of white being the “default race.” Non-white groups are taught about in terms of “contributions” or other additive language.

The teaching of multicultural content operates from the assumption that the problem of racism is an under appreciation of different cultures, and therefore the solution is the celebration of different cultures. What makes this problematic is that 1) it does not address power 2) in defining discrete cultures, people and cultures are necessarily reduced in complexity. 

Critical multiculturalism can address systems of power, but most incarnations of multicultural education are “liberal multiculturalism” which focuses on surface level culture.

Surface level culture can be defined as the parts of culture that are easily identifiable to people outside of that culture; for example, food, language, dress, music, holidays, and traditions.

Even more disturbing is that multiculturalism is where many teacher preparation programs start and stop in terms of “equity” training for prospective educators. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend Equity Literacy for All by Katy Swalwell and Paul Gorski to help you understand why multiculturalism is bad for kids of Color and white trumptaco_horiz2-1024x751kids. Knowing some trivia facts about “other” peoples’ culture gives white people a false sense of being non-racist. A person can know, and even appreciate, various cultures while still being and acting racist. And we know non-racist = racist.

 

So here I argue that a person needs to be anti-racist before they can teach multiculturalism. Without the critical race theoretical frame, it’s just liberal multiculturalism. It’s surface level information that makes white people feel better about themselves.

Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT)

I can’t lie. I love Zaretta Hammond’s book Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain. I love it because I believe that in another dimension I’m a brain surgeon. The brain is so fascinating. I remember learning in my undergrad program that the brain is the hardware and culture is the software. I also love the analogy that culture is the lens of the camera and frames what and how we see in the world. I believe that. I see how whiteness has warped our sense of culture, what we value, and what we consider unworthy. BUT Zaretta Hammond herself says CRT is not “social justice” nor does it require “anti-bias” training. It’s not inherently anti-racist. I believe it is a piece of the puzzle, but can do more harm when not prefaced with anti-racist pedagogies. As Dr. H. Samy Alim said in a keynote I attended last year at a conference in L.A., “CRT has been picked up and read through a white, hegemonic lens of assimilation.”

 

Districts all over the country have jumped on the CRT bandwagon precisely because of what Dr. Alim said. And because the word “culture” is more palatable than “anti-racist” they can’t wait to “do” CRT. They read the book and are suddenly experts creating and implementing Pinterest worthy CRT strategies (seriously – search “culturally responsive teaching” on Pinterest). UntitledThe problem is most educators can’t even correctly define CRT. People frequently confuse culturally relevant teaching for culturally responsive teaching. They further confuse culturally relevant teaching with culturally relevant pedagogy. Words are important in these conversations, but because we don’t dig this deep in professional development, people use these terms interchangeably which works to dilute their meaning, and thus their efficacy.

First, culturally relevant teaching is using content that is relevant to students. Culturally relevant content does not have anything to do with anti-racism unless that’s what you make it about. We can use Minecraft to teach kids engineering and call it culturally relevant. Culturally responsive teaching, the way Zaretta Hammond wrote about it, is about instruction. It’s about being responsive to the varied needs of your learners and rejecting a one-size fits all approach keeping in mind that culture is the software of the brain. Again, you can use culturally responsive practices in a classroom and never teach about race or oppression, or even consider them in lesson planning.

Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings is responsible for the term culturally relevant pedagogy, introducing it about two decades ago. Culturally relevant pedagogy goes further than CRT because it calls for educators to create sociopolitical awareness in their students. Dr. Billings, however, recently wrote a chapter for the book Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies in which she says culturally relevant pedagogy doesn’t go far enough; even it isn’t anti-racist. So here I argue that when an educator hasn’t studied critical race theory in depth, they can do more harm with all of the types of teaching and pedagogy discussed under this CRT heading.

Racial Equity

Here I’m at a point where I believe we will not achieve racial equity if we aren’t first anti-racist. I can see how both can be done at the same time, but even that comes with the danger of making decisions called “racial equity” without the proper anti-racist analysis. I used this graphic with my sixth graders as a vocabulary inference tool.

65ae84479462450b798f3d59ce022cd5

My students worked together to define equity and how it’s different from equality. To paraphrase their definitions, equality means everyone starts out the same and equity means everyone ends up the same. When I think about this argument of which needs to come first, I go back to this image. In order for everyone to end up the same, or get what they all need (apples), we first had to dismantle and reconstruct the system (boxes) used for people to get what they need. To achieve racial equity in education we have to be anti-racist first and dismantle then reconstruct education.

Counter Revolutionaries in a Time of Crisis

Image credit: Seattle Times

Paulo Freire warned us about counter revolutionaires. He defined them as “revolutionaires who became reactionary.” But in times of crises, like now with the COVID-19 pandemic, how do we prevent revolutionaries from becoming reactionary? Freire gave us an antidote for counter revolutionaries: dialogue. Right now, April 5th, 2020, is an interesting time to watch leaders and previous revolutionaries react to this crisis. People who used to be at odds with one another are suddenly allies, supporting each other for the sake of “getting through this.” I suppose, to a certain degree, I understand this. However, hidden beneath the “let’s all get along” narrative is the “don’t talk about bad leadership” mandate; essentially, restricting dialogue and critical analysis about leaders who were once considered lacking. We see this on the national level with many leaders calling to rally behind Trump because he is the president. And here, in Seattle, many are calling to rally behind our district superintendent. It’s an interesting phenomenon. How does a global pandemic make a poor leader better overnight? Why is criticism taboo during a crisis?

Critical Dialogue Is More Critical Than Ever

Upon reflection, I can see why, during this time of crisis, people who don’t regularly work with me would dismiss my continued call outs of the superintendent of Seattle Public Schools; from the outside I probably look like a perpetually angry malcontent. It’s true I am angry a lot, but most of my time is spent on creating, collaborating, and laughing with people in my community. I love the work I do because of the people I get to work with. Calling someone out only comes after communication has broken down or has been intentionally shut down.

The superintendent actively and routinely shuts down dialogue and acts without collaboration. This is a person who has repeatedly earned criticism and disapproval from a wide range of community members. Whether or not I agree with each of these actions, the fact remains there is a plethora of examples of her poor judgment. She cancelled a Native American after school program and an after school program focused on academic support for Black students, has led the cover up of several teacher abuse stories for which she was slow to apologize and left many families feeling like her apology was severely lacking, continues to ignore claims of racism from students and staff, and continues to refuse to support a meaningful ethnic studies program despite the fact the school board has unanimously supported it and various student groups, including her own student advisory group, demand it. She has offended and alienated educators of Color who have become leaders on a national level in ethnic studies.

The above examples are only examples of how her leadership continues to harm largely communities of Color. There are also several examples of how she has alienated large swaths of affluent, white families. Though I agree with some of the decisions that angered white families, like the adoption of Amplify Science and the dismantling of the highly capable/gifted cohort, the ways in which they were implemented demonstrate her lack of concern for collaboration and her dismissal of classroom educators. For example, she pushed the Technology Access Foundation (TAF) program on Washington Middle School (WMS) despite a no vote from the educators at WMS. While many educators expressed support for TAF, they explained the no vote was a result of a lack of communication from Juneau about how TAF would be implemented and how it would impact their jobs. And just this week, Juneau showed her contempt for educators again by sending out a Hunger Games style mandate that educators show up for childcare duty on top of their teaching jobs (currently complicated by transitioning to an all virtual environment) without so much as mentioning her intent to the teachers’ union.

There have been several attempts by all of the people and organizations impacted by this poor leadership to collaborate and reasonably address these issues through dialogue, but it only falls on apathetic ears. After the superintendent interrupted a regularly scheduled ethnic studies work meeting, chastising the group for not completing a task that her own cabinet members blocked the group from working on, some members of the group asked for an apology. The superintendent’s response was, “I’m not prepared to have that conversation today.” When I look back at these examples of poor leadership, I’m left to wonder how much resentment and anger could have been prevented with dialogue. And now, when we should be hypercritical of leadership, particularly how leaders communicate, some are asking to give her grace by not vocalizing criticism – restricting dialogue.

Counter Revolutionaries are Contradictions to the People

“Almost never, however, does a revolutionary leadership group perceive that it constitutes a contradiction to the people. Indeed, this perception is painful, and the resistance may serve as a defense mechanism. After all, it is not easy for leaders who have emerged through adherence to the oppressed to recognize themselves as being in contradiction with those to whom they adhered. It is important to recognize this reluctance when analyzing certain forms of behavior on the part of revolutionary leaders who involuntarily become a contradiction (although not antagonists) of the people.” – Freire

This is something I keep with me always as I reflect on my responsibility as a “leader”. I put that in quotations because I continue to be a reluctant leader. But this is something I’m seeing happen in our current reality. I understand the desire to rally behind a leader and work together through these challenging events, but it feels more reactionary than revolutionary. Some might say a crisis is the best time to react. I disagree whole-heartedly. A crisis is the best opportunity for a revolution. Why rally behind a leader that has repeatedly demonstrated their inability to successfully lead when right now is the time exceptional leadership is required? I think that’s why Dr. Fauci and Governor Cuomo are gaining popularity. They are voices of reason that counteract the poor leadership of the president, made painfully more visible during this crisis. Similarly, we are seeing in public education how this crisis is opening the wounds of racial, class, and disability disparities and how many of the superintendent’s actions have exacerbated them since her arrival. Now is the time for revolutionary action, not reactionary solidarity.

I urge those in leadership to reject reactionary solidarity and embrace revolutionary action and leadership. When we think of centering students and communities of Color, is the current leader the best person for the job? If the answer is no, how does a global pandemic improve their leadership qualities and abilities? I urge all people to continue to engage in critical dialogue and not allow their fear of the present erase the harm of the past and the future neglect of the communities we serve and fight for.

The Fight for Ethnic Studies and Educators of Color in Seattle Public Schools

“My name is Tracy Castro-Gill. I am the daughter of Richard Castro and Rita Hust. I am the descendant of the Mexica and Celtic people. I am the 2019 PSESD Teacher of the Year and PhD candidate writing a dissertation on retaining educators of Color through Ethnic Studies pedagogy and curricula. I am Xicana, chingona, and pissed off.”

This is how I started my public testimony at the February 26th Board meeting of Seattle Public Schools. I went to testify in support of my colleagues, educators of Color who are being sidelined by Superintendent Denise Juneau’s agenda to dismantle the Ethnic Studies Program that was conceived and built by this group of educators. Several educators from the Ethnic Studies Advisory Group showed up to testify about their experiences with racism and other forms of abuse they face as educators of Color in Seattle Public Schools. Many students, parents, and other educators came to testify against the district placing me on administrative leave.

Below is the video of all the testimonies and below that are the transcripts of several testimonies, including the rest of mine. This fight isn’t over. These educators and students are not walking away to allow the district to check a box and call it done. They can’t undo the seeds that have been planted!

¡Hasta la victoria siempre!

Transcripts (posted with the authors’ permission):

Jon Greenberg

What a system we have.

You, our elected officials, are our hope to make things better, but you are unpaid with virtually no staff and for information you primarily rely on highly paid executives farthest away from the best part of education: the youth.

When abuse in this system happens, and it extends far beyond those KUOW articles, our only recourse as educators is to come to you because often times our administrators are port of or the source of the problem.

And of course, the boss of these bosses, who you hire, sits up there with you. So for me to tell you in two short minutes the truth of what’s actually happening on the ground I have to risk retaliation.

And retaliation is EXACTLY what’s happening to Tracy Castro-Gill. She is one of the few who embodies the rhetoric of racial justice that you unanimously passed, and the system, which you represent, smacks her down.

What would it cost you to listen to and partner with the educators of Color your strategic plan is supposed to protect? You are violating your own strategic plan.

You can’t stop ethnic studies. The youth have now tasted a better system and they are hungry for more.

Andrea Chorney

Dear Members of the School Board,

Becoming an Ethnic Studies educator doesn’t happen overnight.  It is a journey marked by the willingness to continually learn from the past and the present.  To reflect on our own identities and biases.  To take time to incorporate the lived experiences of students into the curriculum in meaningful ways that leave students with deeper knowledge of their identities, history, and ultimately, a sense of agency as they begin to see themselves as changemakers in their lives and communities.  But I am talking today about my most recent experiences that have illustrated both the transformative power of ethnic studies for students, as well the challenges to this work within systems that, despite well-crafted words to the contrary (strategic plan), continue to uphold racist policies and ideas.  I’m sharing my experiences because I know it is through learning each other’s stories, that we will build understanding.  It is my hope that by taking time to read my letter, you might understand some of the demonstrated successes of Ethnic Studies and some of the barriers to implementation happening right now.

Most of my career has been spent in large comprehensive middle or high schools.  In this environment, I have been acutely aware that despite our best efforts and belief that all students can succeed, we know that while 82% of white students will graduate form high school, the numbers drop to 72% for African American, Latinx, and 62% for Native students.  How can we say we are preparing all students to be college and career ready, when this is clearly not the case?  We know that we work in an institution (public school) that has been greatly affected by a history of racist policies and ideas, that continues today.  Incorporating Ethnic Studies into all subjects is one important way to work to dismantle this legacy of racist ideas.  Unfortunately, the forced leave of Tracy Castro-Gill has dealt a hard blow to the moral of teachers who have volunteered their time and in many cases sacrificed their health, to this work.

This month, I worked with other anti-racist educators at Denny Middle School to coordinate our Black Lives Matter at School Week, which was recently highlighted in a detailed article on the SPS website.  We saw this work as integral to creating a “Pro-Black agenda…and normalization of centering of Black voices in Seattle Public Schools, “as stated in the 2020 Board Goals and Objectives.  We see this as a springboard to continue this work at a school-wide level all year.  It is important to remember that most of the lessons taught were written by members of the Ethnic Studies Advisory Group. The history of this week in SPS, which has led to a nation-wide movement, is linked directly to the work of Tracy and Ethnic studies advisory board.  It is telling, that Tracy was put on leave at the beginning of this week.

In addition to BLM at School Week, Denny’s racial equity team has worked hard to incorporate anti-racist professional development.  We were disappointed that the Ethnic Studies, CRT, and Racial Literacy trainings were at capacity and we would not be able to participate in those trainings.  This is clear evidence of the need to hire more Ethnic Studies teachers of Color to support Tracy in bringing this vital work to all schools that want it.  Now, with the Ethnic Studies training on hold, it seems as if any progress or momentum we have for implementation is at best stalled, and at worst, erased.

In 2011, I began work as an ELL specialist at a small alternative school called Middle College High School in West Seattle.  During my years at this school, I was able to see first hand the transformative power of teaching Ethnic Studies through the lens of critical pedagogy.  As I helped students to edit their personal statements and college essays, they allowed me to learn about their stories. And what I learned changed my view of what education could be forever.  It also created an enhanced sense of urgency that continues to this day in my teaching.

Many students credited the school with literally saving their lives, but it’s important to remember that is wasn’t about “saving” students.  Rather, we were able to expose students to tools they can use to transform the odds set against them. For some, they were able to connect with the curriculum for the first time. They felt that they were learning “the truth” that they hadn’t learned in regular history class.  They studied power and oppression as well as resistance and liberation.  They learned about the importance of their own cultures and identities.  The small setting allowed students to connect with each other and with teachers in vital ways they could not do in a large school.  They brought their lives into the classroom and we met them where they were and worked with them to help them see where they wanted to go.

The first and last time, I testified before the School Board was in solidarity with these students as we protested the sudden and unjust closure of MCHS at High Point.  In addition to the impact the closure had on some of the most vulnerable students, at least 6 teachers of color, all expert Ethnic Studies teachers, were displaced.

For the last 5 years, I have been working at Denny Middle School, where I have been fortunate enough to collaborate with Tracy Castro Gill at Denny and later as one of the members of the Ethnic Studies Advisory Group, which consists of 22 teachers of color.  At Denny, none of the progress we are making around incorporating Ethnic Studies, would be possible without the leadership and hard work of Tracy.  She has been able to build a powerful coalition of teachers of color, community groups, University professors, authors, students, activists, etc. We don’t do this work alone.  We work together.  But we are also, for the most part, volunteering our time for what we believe in.  We get pressure from our building administrators to not be out of the building for work sessions or professional development.  We get pressure to teach curriculum “with fidelity” even when we know this does not meet the needs of the students in our classes.  We know that many teachers of color, have had to take medical leave or are on the verge of burnout.  This is not sustainable.

What would be sustainable?  To start with, we need to reinstate Tracy Castro Gill so that she can continue to build on the work she has begun and continue to collaborate with teachers of Color who know about Ethnic Studies.  We need to value our teachers as experts and listen to teachers of Color.  SPS must  create safe spaces to do this anti-racist work. This is mandated in the strategic plan  Strategic Plan, Policy 0030: Ensuring Educational and Racial Equity.   This work will move forward when the district is willing to listen to and hire Ethnic Studies teachers of color who have been doing this work.  Hiring an outside consultant, will be counter productive to the collective work of Ethnic Studies.

SPS can’t claim to be anti-racist, but at the same time, continue to dismiss and demean the work of teachers of color who are leading the way.  I hope you can see that what is happening to Tracy Castro-Gill is symptomatic of the district’s mistreatment of educators of Color, especially those who are doing anti-racist work.  The district is sabotaging ethnic studies, despite the Board’s resolution of support, passed unanimously in July of 2017, and despite the superintendent’s own Student Advisory Board recommendation of mandating ethnic studies.

We can’t build a Culturally Responsive Workforce by mistreating and dismissing powerful teachers of Color, like Tracy Castro-Gill and the Ethnic Studies Task Force.

So here I am again, five years after the closure of MCHS at High Point, advocating for the Superintendent to once again listen to the teachers who have experience with Ethnic Studies.  This is not a new movement.  This is not a top down movement.  Continuing this work will be one step towards SPS’s stated goal of decolonizing our leadership spaces. We know the research supports the implementation of Ethnic Studies in order to reach those students who are indeed furthest from educational justice.

Elisa Yzaguirre

My name is Elisa Yzaguirre and I’m a teacher at Denny International Middle School and a member of the Ethnic Studies Advisory Group. I’m here to address the Seattle Teacher Residency Program Contract that sites strategy to recruit and retain educators of color.  The fact that I’ve had the privilege of teaching content through an ES lens for the past few years has directly impacted the learning of students of color and white students in my classes, because for many of them it is the first time their own ideas are reflected in the content they receive in a formal school setting.  It values and validates the lived experiences of my students.  As a bilingual teacher of color, who is skilled and passionate about this work, I still receive pushback for doing it There is pushback for taking time for professional development, there is pushback for not teaching curriculum with fidelity, even when I know it is not the best thing for the students in my room. In the long run, it is not sustainable for me to continue to work in an environment where my expertise is not valued. This is in direct contrast to the Seattle Teacher Residency Contract.  Leadership for ES must come from the educators within our district who are already qualified and willing to lead.  We are all in this struggle together for the agency and liberation of the students in our diverse classrooms  from a historically racist educational system.

Tracy Castro-Gill and the Ethnic Studies Advisory Group have made great progress in bringing Ethnic Studies to Seattle Public Schools.  For example, the Black Lives Matter in School Week can be seen as integral to creating a “Pro-Black agenda…and normalization of centering of Black voices in Seattle Public Schools,” as stated in the 2020 Board Goals and Objectives.  Although this week of action has generated increased interest in Ethnic Studies, it seems that now, with the Ethnic Studies training on hold, any progress or momentum we have for implementation is at best stalled, and at worst, erased.

Tracy Castro-Gill

My name is Tracy Castro-Gill. I am the daughter of Richard Castro and Rita Hust. I am the descendant of the Mexica and Celtic people. I am the 2019 PSESD Teacher of the Year and PhD candidate writing a dissertation on retaining educators of Color through Ethnic Studies pedagogy and curricula. I am Xicana, chingona, and pissed off.

In the summer of 2017 I led an effort to recruit educators, mainly womxn of Color, to the Ethnic Studies Advisory Group, then called the Ethnic Studies Work Group. Each of the members of the ESAG have since become leaders in their own right. These leaders go into their schools, union, community, and sometimes beyond the city and state borders – unpaid or on their own dime – to learn and teach about critical praxis and Ethnic Studies, NOT culturally responsive teaching. You know why? Because their skills and knowledge far surpass CRT practices, which should be the floor, not the ceiling. These leaders are well versed in critical and culturally sustaining pedagogies because they are leaders of Color; they live and embody these practices.

In my role as the Ethnic Studies Program Manager I am their friend, colleague, and biggest fan. Words cannot express how proud I am of their accomplishments and the growth they’ve experienced in the three years we’ve been together. Our work is garnering national attention and being used in classrooms around the world. Though I am their peer and equal, I hold a place of privilege with the title “manager” which makes me ultimately responsible for their well-being.

Your actions are speaking so loud we can’t hear your words. The word is “unapologetic”; the action says “know your place”. The words are “diversity of staff”; the actions say “vendidos”; The word is “anti-racist” but for educators of Color the actions are unfettered harm, trauma, and abuse. When it comes to the well-being of my friends and colleagues and anti-racism I do not come to play. We drew a line in the sand and district leadership is choosing to cross it.

Savanna Jamerson

During our struggle to retain the programming aligned with principals of Ethnic Studies at Middle College High School, the Seattle School Administration showed its true lack of support for both teachers and students of color.

Initially, Middle College was meant to be an alternative, college preparatory high school dedicated to underserved students of color and other marginalized students. Teachers of color taught Humanities courses modeled on Integrated Studies at Seattle Central College, based on a critical pedagogy that analyzes systems of oppression.

Years leading up to our being pushed out in 2015, we objected to :

  • Eurocentric, online computer instruction that merely tests proficiency in Googling answers, and to Bill Gates’ Big History tokenism.
  • Military recruiters holding whole-school recruitment presentations.
  • SPS privileging the needs and wants of Middle College host institutions, over those of our students.

Instead, we insisted on training students with the habits of mind for success in college and providing inspirational, transformative, and relevant instruction.

School Administration aligned itself with primarily white staff who criticized us as inflexible and arrogant about our curriculum and pedagogy, and accused us of “teaching the students to be communists.” Had I time travelled back to the McCarthy era of the 1950’s??

Strategic moves were taken to get rid of all of us.

After directing the staff NOT to accept any new students the West Seattle Middle College closed based on “low enrollment”.

Two educators of color were placed on administrative leave and escorted out to the school by security as if they were criminals.

Some educators were “reassigned” to predominantly white schools, where they would be scrutinized and made to feel uncomfortable.

Our letters and public testimonies, were met with the unspoken, dismissive, message, “This too will pass.”

I liken this experience to your current treatment of the manager of Ethnic Studies. Anyone publicly critical of deeply rooted systemic racism and oppressions, will be met with retaliation and pushed out.

Bruce Jackson

Now is the time. Under the leadership of Tracy Castro-Gill, We have been building a road forward for ethnic studies for 5 years now, a road forward that leads our students out of the humiliating conclusions of the master narrative and into the sense of hope that lies in that road we have built. We have much more work to do, but the road has been laid. Now is the time. Under the leadership of Tracy Castro-Gill. We have fought back against racism in public schools by creating a curriculum and framework that demands to be heard, a curriculum and framework that speaks to the student population of Seattle Public Schools, a curriculum and framework that expands our understanding of identity. Our relationship with power and that lends strength to educators, parents and students alike. Now is the time. Under the leadership of Tracy Castro-Gill, we have built connections that touch our entire nation. Through WEA,NEA, the State and local government, We have knocked down closed doors and demanded a seat at tables denied to people of color since the founding of this nation. We have opened closed eyes and pointed them in the direction of Seattle. The nation is watching us. Now is the time. Under the leadership of Tracy Castro-Gill, we are flying in spaces designed to make us crawl. We are teaching in spaces designed to keep us ignorant. We are creating in an environment of redundancy and denial. We are becoming more than that environment allows. Under the leadership of Tracy Castro-Gill, We are leading this district in a direction of hope. Open your eyes, you can see the road we have built. Walk it with us.