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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.

My Views on Assessments in Critical Pedagogy

Hi! It’s February – Black History Month and Black Lives Matter at School Week starts Monday, February 3. My district kicked off this month by placing me on administrative leave for calling out acts of racism! And, fyi, we’re still waiting for the apology we demanded last month…

I am taking this break to reflect on the why of my work and how I can do it in a sustainable way that protects my mental well-being as well as my economic well-being while also not giving up on the community I love.

As such, this month’s post is a paper written for my doctoral program on my philosophy of assessment. I may have something to write about for March’s installment pertaining to my current situation, but I feel like this is a strong piece and a required shift in how we view assessments.


Introduction

There are two types of assessment used in education: formative and summative. A formative assessment is generally defined as assessing students’ needs and using data collected from these assessments to guide instruction. A summative assessment is generally defined as assessing the cumulative knowledge and/or skills gained from an activity, lesson, or unit. Formative assessments are seen more as informal, such as exit tickets or assessing group discussions, while summative assessments can be very formal, like end of year standardized tests (Frey & Fisher, 2011).

The Ethnic Studies Program in Seattle Public Schools aims to create an instructional model in which summative assessments are synonymous with evaluation, which Dr. Cullen defines as an analysis of a program (Laureate Education, 2017) and formative assessments drive curriculum and instruction. The Ethnic Studies Program uses a critical pedagogy model that views learning as cyclical and ongoing, therefor requiring all assessments be formative, even those conducted at the end of an activity, lesson, or unit (Freire, 1968). While the educator may not continue with students past a semester or school year, the students are expected to continue their learning beyond individual teachers’ classrooms, and assessments should be just as student-centered as instruction.

Assessment as a Driver of Instruction

The Ethnic Studies Program calls out culturally responsive teaching and critical pedagogy as key to instruction in addition to content that is explicitly anti-racist (Castro-Gill, et al, 2018). Both instructional models are categorized by Dr. Wilson (n.d.) as “Personalist” and “Social Interaction”, which closely align with the ways in which education scholars define learner-centered instruction and/or curriculum (Cullen, Harris, & Hill, 2012). In a learner-centered model, students are assessing themselves and their peers in nearly every interaction as they drive the learning. Teachers, in the role of facilitator, are eventually freed from direct instruction in a process Frey and Fisher (2011) call “gradual release of responsibility” wherein the goal is to instruct and model tasks and then observe and formatively assess independent and collaborative learning.

Richmond, et al (2019) argue that strong learner-centered curriculum starts with a strong learner-centered syllabus. As such, the Ethnic Studies Program aims to create curriculum and instruction that is backwards planned, starting with what students will be able to do and understand when they graduate from high school instead of what teachers plan to teach. To assist in this backwards planning, the Ethnic Studies Program has created a series of content-specific frameworks with guiding questions (Seattle Public Schools, n.d.). These questions are meant to help educators backwards plan, starting with what students need to know and be able to do which then informs formative assessment. Having a strong backwards plan creates an environment in which teachers know exactly what to assess students for, even in the simplest of interactions, such as academic discussions among students and their peers. Black and William (2010) argue this model, which focuses on the interactions happening inside the “black box”, or classroom, is key to raising standards and improving outcomes for students.

Field Observations

            An exemplar of the model described above is the sixth-grade ethnic studies world history classroom of Andrew Chase at Denny International Middle School. Andrew uses four guiding questions from the Ethnic Studies Framework that inform his curriculum and instruction for this year-long course (Seattle Public Schools, n.d.):

  1. How have power dynamics changed throughout history?
  2. What role do the natural environment and cultural geography play in the development of humans?
  3. How are systems of knowledge – science and technology – influencing power and oppression?
  4. How can we critically analyze the biases created by power dynamics and leverage this to change oppressive systems today?

He uses these questions to first develop end of unit assessments which inform the lessons, activities, and informal assessments students will engage in throughout the year. As described earlier, Andrew views each assessment as formative, including end of unit assessments, which are nearly all collaborative, small-group projects. Andrew’s syllabus uses student-centered, collaborative language like “we” and “us” that centers the expected experiences and outcomes of students rather than the content Andrew will deliver.

A typical class period starts out with what Andrew calls “Social Vision”. This is an entry task that activates prior knowledge and asks students to make inferences about a picture, graphic, video, and/or quote related to the day’s lesson. Students first engage in an “elbow partner” discussion responding to prompts provided by Andrew. They then have silent time to write down their thoughts about the prompts and the discussion with their peers. Andrew then asks for students to share out their inferences and come to some consensus on what the “Social Vision” means. This is a formative assessment that helps Andrew understand what direction the day’s lesson may need to take to fill in gaps of understanding.

Students then engage in some form of collaborative reading, like a jigsaw, or “data mining”. The latter may take the form of looking up information in an atlas, a textbook, or online source, but it is almost always collaborative. During collaborative work, students are assigned roles (scribe, researcher, reader, project manager, etc) and each student is assessing how well they and their peers are performing their roles. During this time, Andrew is checking in with groups to informally assess their understanding of the task and content.

End of unit assessments are almost always collaborative, and students assess each other on effort and collaboration using Common Core Standards for speaking and listening as a guide. Since Andrew uses the four guiding questions for a year-long course, the course is cyclical and thematic in nature, which allows Andrew to use end of unit tests as formative assessments because students are expected to apply themes to future units. For example, in a unit on the Agricultural Revolution, students learn about how human settlements negatively impacted river-valley ecosystems. Students will use this knowledge in the next unit on sustainability and climate injustice, particularly pollution in the Duwamish River in the South Park neighborhood of Seattle where many students at Denny International Middle School live.

Summary

Critical pedagogy asks that students become and remain life-long learners committed to critical analysis of their environment with the purpose of eliminating injustices. To prepare students to be critical and just citizens, an effective Ethnic Studies Program must view all assessment as formative. Summative assessments that are more evaluative in nature signal to students that learning is over. This is not a message the Ethnic Studies Program wants to send to young people. A critical, cyclical student-centered model of instruction creates an environment in which all assessments are formative and learning is never summed up.

 

 

 

References

Black, P. & William, D. (2010). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 92(1), 81-902. Retrieved from https://eds-a-ebscohost-

com.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=1&sid=0f84c285-44c6-436f-bf40-aca7923f4bbe%40sdc-v-sessmgr01

Castro-Gill, T., VanDerPloeg, L., Alonzo, A., Charlton, J., Au, W. & Guzmán, G. (2018). Seattle

Public Schools anti-racist content and practice definitions. Seattle Public Schools. Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/open?id=1RdZqm61gT0-jJWuCLsLkn7Fm7zK63RrisrOAsh8RWe8

Cullen, R., Harris, M., Hill, R. R. (2012). The learner-centered curriculum; Design and

implementation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Freire, P. (1968). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

Frey, L. & Fisher, D. (2011). The formative assessment action plan: Practical steps to more

successful teaching and learning. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2017). Models of assessment [Video file].

Baltimore, MD: Author.

Richmond, A. S., Morgan, R. K., Slattery, J. M., Mitchell, N. G., & Cooper, A. G. (2019).

Project syllabus: An exploratory study of learner-centered syllabi. Teaching of Psychology, 46(1), 6-15. doi: 10.1177/0098628318816129.

Seattle Public Schools. (n.d.). Ethnic Studies Frameworks. Retrieved from

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1LlhUlRWOOeeSE4b_RpYHY9a-KpKs-sf9

Wilson, L. O. (n.d.). The second principle: Models of teaching. Retrieved from

https://thesecondprinciple.com/essential-teaching-skills/models-of-teaching/

Open Letter to Denise Juneau, Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools

Wouldn’t it be nice if my blog could be focused more on the good work of the educators of Color dedicated to Ethnic Studies in Seattle Public Schools? I intended for this blog to be a tool for activism and information, but with as much gatekeeping and interference our program is up against, it seems this blog is more the former than the latter. I hope that one day, soon, we won’t have to fight so hard for the Ethnic Studies program and this blog can be more for information and sharing joy. In the meantime…


Superintendent Denise Juneau,

At a school board meeting on January 8th, 2020, there was a conversation about creating ethnic studies courses students could enroll in to earn graduation credits. At approximately 2:01:30 in this video of the board meeting you make a statement that includes the words, “I hope teachers on there [Ethnic Studies Advisory Group] will really take this seriously because the only people that will lose out if this does not happen are students. And so that’s my message to the ethnic studies advisory council: Please come together, look at these courses, decide whether they can be approved for ethnic studies for cross-credit because we really want our students to be able to have access next year.”

Superintendent Juneau, there are a few things the Ethnic Studies Advisory Group (please learn our name) would like you to know. We are in our third year of “coming together” as a group of dedicated educators of Color. We have “come together” despite threats from our principals, mistreatment, gatekeeping, and exploitation by administrators in Seattle Public Schools, and threats of physical violence from the community. We have “come together” to create the very foundation upon which today’s Ethnic Studies Program currently sits. We “come together” despite the fact you have refused to staff the program to make it sustainable. We “come together” despite the fact we frequently do not get paid for the volumes of work we have created. We “come together” because we are the adult versions of our current students; radicalized by our own experiences with institutional racism in education – both our personal education and as educators in Seattle Public Schools. We are so committed to this work, despite severe lack of support, that four educators from our group are on medical leave for stress induced by racism perpetuated by our employer.

We came together in November to begin the work of writing course descriptions you mentioned in your statement, only to have that work appropriated when the Ethnic Studies Program Manager, Tracy Castro-Gill, went on medical leave for stress induced by racism perpetuated by her employer. In December, we came together and met with Dr. DeBacker and Dr. Perkins, who informed us they had tasked a separate group of educators to complete the work we had begun; educators who have not been vetted to do such sensitive and important work. However, you chose to lay blame for incomplete work at the feet of the group of educators who have built the Ethnic Studies Program. Not only did you choose to make such an ignorant and offensive statement, you also implied that the Advisory Group is purposefully working against the effort to create course descriptions for cross-crediting.

We “come together” now to demand a public apology for the disrespectful statements made by you from the dais on January 8th, 2020. Educators of Color are watching and hoping that you will deliver on all the promises you are making.

Sincerely,

The 21 members of the Ethnic Studies Advisory Group:

Alma Ramiro Alonzo, Montlake Elementary School

Akin Alston, Mathematician, Educator, and Entrepreneur

Kaitlin Kamalei Brandon, Leschi Elementary School

Tracy Castro-Gill, John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence

Andrea Chorney, Denny International Middle School

Flordelrio Correa, Interagency High School

Jennifer Dunn, Southlake High School

Donte Felder, Orca K8

Jon Greenberg, The Center School

Heather Griffin, Chief Sealth International High School

Tara Hofmann, John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence

Amanda Hubbard, Kimball Elementary School

Bruce Jackson, Aki Kurose Middle School

Savanna Jamerson, Interagency High School

Lisa Rice, Franklin High School

Rogelio Rigor, Interagency High School (retired)

Deven Shah, Broadview Thomson K8

Shraddha Shirude, Garfield High School

Justin Vinson, Franklin High School

Tess Williams, Cleveland High School

Elisa Yzaguirre, Denny International Middle School

Seattle Public Schools Does Not Like Educators of Color

EoC, We Have a Problem

Teaching is white. As a profession, the demographics for educators is 80% white. For Washington State, it’s 90%. Seattle Public Schools, however, has the most diverse teaching force at 75% white. Seattle Public Schools has also taken a very strict anti-racist stance since the new superintendent has taken over – at least in words.

One would believe that given these circumstances, educators of color would be at the forefront of this anti-racist movement in the district. We have the most concentrated numbers of educators of color. We are the only district in the state whose educator union has a program called The Center for Racial Equity, created and led by a Black womxn. We are one of the few districts in the state that has an official Ethnic Studies program. It looks like a great place to be for educators of color, right?

WRONG

What we have in SPS are “leaders”, the vast majority of whom are white, talking about racial equity without having any idea what that actually means. They are claiming to work on goals like increasing the literacy rates of 3rd grade African American males, diversifying the workforce, and creating a culturally responsive workforce. In the most diverse district in the state one would assume those people leading these goals are people of color who have a great deal of understanding about what racial justice looks like. You’d be wrong. They are all white and they are leading these goals the white way.

What does the white way look like, you ask? You always ask such thoughtful questions. I appreciate that. Well, if you’re a person of color, I’m sure you know where I’m going. First, and always foremost, there’s tokenization. They put “taskforces” and “workgroups” together with a generous sprinkle of POC that perform various roles in the district. They may even bring in POC outside of the organization – you know… the token Black parent. Second, they elevate some POC to very visible roles that have little to nothing to do with the actual stated goals, which gives the illusion that a person of color is leading the work. That way, when someone calls them out on the lack of leadership of color, they can point to the one or two people that may have some vaguely related responsibility but no real positional power.

Last, and the most insidious and destructive, is the #BrownTax. The #BrownTax shows up in many ways. The most common I’ve seen is at the school building level where a Black or Brown educator becomes the disciplinarian who deals with “those kids” the (white) teachers can’t seem to “control”. Often times, principals will purposefully hire Black men for the role of instructional assistant for kids who are in special education programs for behavioral support: white teacher with the pay that comes with that title/Black disciplinarian in the form of an IA with the pay that (does not) come with that title.

Institutional #BrownTax

Right now I’m on a medical leave for stress along with at least three of my colleagues, all of whom are womxn of color who have been leading racial justice work for the past several years in the district. The #BrownTax taxes more than our pocketbooks. It taxes our physical, psychological, and emotional well-being. SPS leadership has created a perfect storm for the most severe #BrownTax that can exist on an institutional level. Here’s how it works.

  1. We say we are anti-racist.
  2. We don’t change any of the infrastructure or procedures that are racist.
  3. We put white people in charge of the goals ignoring the fact that educators of color have already been doing this work for years.
  4. The white people realize (if we’re lucky) they don’t know what they’re doing.
  5. They push the work, but not the title or the money, off on people of color, sometimes the same EoC that have already been doing the work.
  6. They don’t provide time, money, human power, or other resources needed to complete the work.
  7. They disregard the work and recommendations of the people of color they pushed the work off on and do the white thing anyway.

Let’s Look At a Case Study

I can speak most authoritatively on my own examples, which include the Ethnic Studies program. This program began in 2017 before our current superintendent was hired. I put together a group of educators, now called the Ethnic Studies Advisory Group, to assist in creating the program. Today, that group consists of 23 K-12 educators: 4 white educators, 4 Latinx educators, 5 Black educators, 4 Asian educators, 3 Filipinx educators, and 1 Asian Pacific Islander educator. As you can see, we are mostly educators of color, about 20% of us identify as queer, and 70% of us are womxn. This group has been leading in the creation of curriculum, professional development, and general decision making about the Ethnic Studies program since 2017. We meet once a month for an entire day, 7 months per year. That may seem like a lot, but when you consider we’re building a K-12 interdisciplinary program for the largest district in the state from scratch, that is nothing. Oh, and did I mention the Advisory Group doesn’t get paid? That’s important to know, too.

Despite the fact that students and community members show up to virtually every school board meeting demanding ethnic studies, and despite the fact that we claim we are anti-racist, and despite the fact that our work is helping to inform state-wide creation of ethnic studies curriculum, we are currently in a situation where I am the only person on the institutional level who works on this program full time. Again, it’s a K-12 interdisciplinary program, which means I am responsible for creating curricula for each content area at each grade level and training the 4000+ educators in the 100+ schools across the district on how to use those curricula.

Like I said, I’m on leave in large part because of this #BrownTax, but also because of #7 on the list above. I have been excluded from discussions and conversations by “leadership” about ethnic studies more times than I can remember. I have been micro – and macro – aggressed by the white people who are “leading” the district goals for racial equity. So, I’m on leave. When I left for leave I was in the middle of writing course descriptions for ethnic studies courses that could be cross-credited by high schoolers for graduation requirements. I first consulted the Advisory Group who gave me instructions on how to write the descriptions, but since we meet so infrequently and for such short amounts of time, it was on me to finish the descriptions. Unfortunately, I couldn’t hang that long, and when I left my supervisor asked me what should be done. I told her the Advisory Group would need to finish the course descriptions.

Guess what? Instead of going to the Advisory Group as a whole, they reached out to one of the 2 white men in the group for advice who promptly pointed out the racism and misogyny of that move and provided the names and contact info for the advisory group members. Were they contacted? Nope. Instead, the white man who is now “leading” this work went to the high school department heads, almost entirely white, and asked them to recruit teachers from their schools to write the course descriptions. We have no way of knowing if these people even know what ethnic studies is or if they have any understanding of racism. None of the department heads except for two have even had any ethnic studies professional development. Meanwhile, the Advisory Group, who literally wrote the program into existence and already started the course description writing effort, is completely ignored and dismissed.

What Now?

Honestly, I don’t know. That’s why I’m on leave. I have pushed and advocated, fought and provided evidence. I have loudly pointed out all the instances of systemic white supremacy. I have organized and accomplished with virtually no support. What now? That’s the question of the day.

Fortunately, we have many white accomplices in this fight for ethnic studies who are holding shit together right now while so many educators of color are entirely burnt out, but it shouldn’t be this way and it doesn’t have to be this way. We have so many dedicated and brilliant educators of color who are skilled and willing to lead the way. To truly be anti-racist SPS needs to value those of us who have been doing the work for years and stop trying to go around us so they can check a box on a piece of paper, but Seattle Public Schools does not like educators of color.

Philosophy of Curriculum

image source https://www.ccoe.k12.ca.us/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=1092718&type=d&pREC_ID=1377627

This is a special PhD edition post! I was asked to write a “philosophy of curriculum” paper because my program is a doctorate of philosophy in education with a concentration on curriculum, instruction, assessment, and evaluation. Reading the history and evolution of curriculum and the roles war and economics have played in guiding it was sad; unsurprising, and still sad. My goal in earning this degree is to help normalize and legitimize rehumanizing education.


Introduction

Curriculum is at the core of this Doctor of Education program, so having a strong personal philosophy about the definition and purpose of curriculum is key. It is also important to have a philosophy for how curriculum should be developed, implemented, and evaluated. Important questions to consider are: What is included in a curriculum that can be adequately differentiated to meet the needs of diverse learners and educators in a culturally responsive, critical way? How can all stakeholders work together to create intelligent accountability (Fullan, 2011) in curricula? What do evaluators need to look for to measure the efficacy of curricula?

What is Curriculum?

Franklin & Johnson (2008) indicate the historical definitions of curriculum have fluctuated over the years. Some definitions include instruction as integral to content, while some definitions limit curriculum strictly to content, specifically content broken down by discipline and usually in the form of textbooks. While the first definition of curriculum, written by Franklin Bobbitt, was based on industrial efficacy (Cullen, Harris, & Hill, 2012), modern curricularists are faced with postindustrial-era education needs.

Students and educators now have access to virtually infinite amounts of information, or what has traditionally been defined as “content”. The goal then becomes producing critically conscious consumers and manipulators of information (Laureate, 2017). The “what” to teach, therefore, is only important insofar as it provides relevant, real-world problems that students are then asked to critically engage with and apply their learning to real-world scenarios. Ideally, these scenarios will be racial and social justice oriented, encouraging students to be positive change makers as young people, not when they “grow up”. This curriculum philosophy most closely aligns with what is sometimes called critical theorists (Miller, 2011).

Who Creates Curriculum?

Levin (2008) outlines the various political pressures that continue to determine who is responsible for creating curriculum. Everyone from higher education faculty to school boards and parents believe they are expert curricularists and have a right to create, inform, and approve or reject proposed curricula. Levin (2008) discusses the phenomenon in which a person believes they have expertise by virtue of having been a student. Franklin & Johnson (2008) add the role that politics, specifically the Cold War, and economics have played in determining who writes curricula, including politicians and business leaders. This can currently be seen with the advent of the Common Core and other education reform led by Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation (Ho, 2018).

Though many reports indicate the failures (Ho, 2018) and inherent racism in contemporary education reform, which can be defined as high-stakes standards-based reform (Au, 2009; Kendi, 2016), we continue to look to politicians and business leaders to spearhead curriculum development. Professional educators continue to be at the margins of curriculum development. This is a serious deficit that needs to be corrected. Master educators become expert pedagogues only through practice, reflection, and personal and professional development. There is need for family, student, and community input, but only insomuch as there is meaningful collaboration with skilled, trained, professional pedagogues. Politicians and business leaders should never inform curriculum, as they tend to only have their own interests, and not the interests of children – or even the nation – in mind.

How Is Curriculum Evaluated?

Because of the political and economic influences on education, specifically curriculum, current curricula tend to be evaluated in terms of mastery of standards, including the Common Core and other state-specific standards (Levin, 2008). Common Core standards tend to focus on discreet skills, which necessitates a pedagogy that compartmentalizes learning, instead of synthesizing learning in critical thought and practice (Common Core, n.d.). These inequitable measurements are not improving the outcomes of students, particularly students of color (Barshay, 2019; Au, 2011; Kendi, 2016).

Perception data and portfolio assessments may lend themselves better to measuring the efficacy of curriculum. Student and family perception of how and what they are learning can indicate how well a curriculum is meeting the needs of the stakeholders education is meant to serve. Portfolio assessments, which ask students to “show what they know”, can encourage the critical synthesis within and among disciplines (Hopkins, 2017), a skill many education advocates claim they want students to leave school with, including business leaders (Peart, 2019), and they are a more rigorous way to measure curriculum efficacy.

Summary

Curriculum is the heart of teaching and learning, and in a postindustrial education setting, instruction is an essential element of an effective curriculum that prepares diverse learners to be responsible and critical consumers of knowledge. While community should play a role in creating curriculum, respect for the professional skill and knowledge cultivated over years of practice should place educators at the center of curriculum creation. The outcomes of curriculum are best evaluated by those using it to learn: students and their families. Ending high-stakes evaluation of curriculum, and by extension education, and putting human factors back into the assessment of curriculum will produce civic-minded students ready to tackle the problems of the 21st century and many generations to come.

 

References

Au, W. (2011). Unequal by Design; High stakes testing and the standardization of inequity. New York, NY: Routledge.

Barshay, J. (2019). Five years after Common Core, a mysterious spike in failure rate among NY high school students. Hechinger Report. Retrieved from https://hechingerreport.org/five-years-after-common-core-a-mysterious-spike-in-failure-rate-among-ny-high-school-students/

Common Core. (n.d.). Read the standards. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/read-the-standards/

Cullen, R., Harris, M., & Hill, R. R. (2012). The learner-centered curriculum: Design and implementation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Franklin, B. & Johnson, C. (2008). What the schools teach: a social history of the American curriculum since 1950. In F.M. Connelly, M. F. He & J. Phillion. The SAGE handbook of curriculum and instruction. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd. doi: 10.4135/9781412976572.n23

Fullan, M. (2011). Change leader; Learning to do what matters most. San Francisco, CA:Jossey-Bass.

Ho, S. (2018). AP analysis shows how Bill Gates influences education policy. AP News. Retrieved from https://apnews.com/a4042e82ffaa4a34b50ceac464761957

Hopkins, A. (2017). High schools turning to student portfolios to assess academic progress. EdSource. Retrieved from https://edsource.org/2017/high-schools-turning-to-student-portfolios-to-assess-academic-progress/580147

Kendi, I. X. (2016). Stamped from the beginning; The definitive history of racist ideas in America. New York, NY: Nation Books.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2017). Curriculum and the forces that shape it [Video file]. Baltimore, MD: Author.

Levin, B. (2008). Curriculum policy and the politics of what should be learned in schools. In F. Connelly, M. F. He, & J. Phillion. The SAGE Handbook of Curriculum and Instruction. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd. doi: 10.4135/9781412976572.n1

Miller, D. L. (2011). Curriculum theory and practice: what’s your style? Phi Delta Kappan, (7), Retrieved from https://eds-b-ebscohost-com.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=1&sid=016399a8-c4ae-4ae2-b14e-3ffd0040dd41%40sessionmgr102

Peart, N. (2019). The 12 most important skills you need to succeed at work. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/nataliapeart/2019/09/10/the-12-most-important-skills-you-need-to-succeed-at-work/#6db50ce81c6a

Math is Ethnic Studies

Featured image is of a mancala game table. Mancala is an ancient math game originating in Ethiopia.

Recently, the work of the Seattle Public Schools Ethnic Studies Advisory Board has come under fire by conservative talk show hosts and Seattle’s own preeminent racist blogger, Melissa Westbrook. Critics accuse us of “dumbing down math.” Sitting school board director, Rick Burke’s wife, Lihn-Co Nguyen, has even hopped on the ethnic studies bashing.

 

 

Let’s take a minute to understand why these attacks are baseless and racist, shall we?

STEM so White

The teachers being considered for the 2019 STEM teacher awards in Washington State are 100% white. That’s not by accident. Several studies indicate that math and science tend to be white dominated spaces and research has linked this fact to the ways in which STEM fields devalue Black and Brown identities. While there are disparate outcomes by race for all standardized tests, math scores for students of color consistently remain far lower than other tested subjects.

Study after study tell us that how young people of color view themselves as mathematicians is key to their success in math courses. This applies to all subjects. That’s why you’ll often hear history teachers say things like, “Let’s think like historians!” Students of music who consider themselves musicians probably do better than those who don’t. Even in science, students have fun when they put on the white lab coat and do experiments. In that case, they can literally see themselves as scientists. Why would it be different for math?

Math is “Objective”

Part of the reason people don’t think identity is important in math is because it’s seen as the most objective subject in school. Math is math. There’s one right answer. Math is the “universal language.” I’m not arguing with any of those statements, but math is most certainly NOT objective, especially when it’s operationalized. And guess what? Teaching math is operationalizing math. When teachers choose not to include how identities matter in math, they are teaching a biased, politicized form of math. When we give the impression (or overtly state) that math originates from European sources (even the word “mathematics” comes from a Greek word), we are stealing the rich mathematical histories of students of color from them and we are lying to white students.

When we teach math using pedagogy and instructional strategies that focus on individual learning and achievement, we are ignoring the ways in which most students of color learn – collaboratively and collectively. We use word problems that are completely disconnected from the lived experiences of students of color. We don’t teach them how math can inform and transform their lives and their communities. Black and Brown people are completely erased from math and math is irrelevant to their lives in our current math practices.

And while math may be a universal language, there are different ways to learn about, conceptualize, and solve equations that are based on culture. There’s an entire sub-field of study called ethnomathematics. Not only does ethnomathematics center math learning in cultural traditions and knowledge, it teaches us that math looks and operates differently in different cultures. Consider the Aztec base 20 system of math. Instead of doing calculations and writing out numbers in units of 10, or decimals, Aztecs (Nahuatl) used 20 as a base unit. If we teach students there are many ways to get to the “right answer,” not only will they learn their cultural roots as mathematicians, they will also understand number sense better because they will be able to define it from multiple perspectives, or approaches.

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a visualization of the Aztec base 20 system

Oppression in Math

“Western” math – the base 10 system (which actually comes from ancient India)- is not the only math. The fact that so few people understand there are other ways of “doing” math means that math has been used to erase the histories of communities, people, and empires of color. That is oppression. The fact that kids of Latinx descent don’t know their ancestors invented zero is oppression. Causing people to believe that only people of European descent had anything important to say or teach about math is racism.

Science, and by extension math, have most certainly been used in more overt, nefarious forms of racism. Consider the Tuskegee Experiment, the story of Henrietta Lacks, and the debunked “science” of eugenics. Math was used to disenfranchise Black voters as late as the 1960s. Math is used in the War on Drugs in which the weight and type of drug is used in sentencing guidelines that disproportionately imprison Black and Brown offenders for longer sentences.

When Black and Brown students learn math through an ethnic studies pedagogy, it is an act of liberation. Undoing the colonization of math as a “Western” concept is resistance. Becoming a mathematician as a person of color is taking action against a system that heavily privileges white people, especially white men. Ethnic studies belongs in math just as much, if not more so, as it does in history.

#ReWhiting – Ethnic Studies in Seattle Public Schools

#ReWhiting is a hashtag invented by Marquita Prinzing, Director of Seattle Education Association’s Center for Racial Equity. She uses it to name the ways in which Whiteness reclaims institutions in which leaders of Color have successfully pushed the boundaries of racial justice. We are currently experiencing #ReWhiting in Seattle Public Schools. This blog post tells the story of the Ethnic Studies Movement in Seattle and how leadership in Seattle Public Schools is #ReWhiting our efforts.

In The Beginning

First, I want to acknowledge that the fight for ethnic studies goes back to violent clashes between students of Color demanding their right to a culturally inclusive, socially just education and education institutions during the Civil Rights era, and this piece focuses on the here and now.

In the fall of 2016, I was working with the Center for Racial Equity on building its mission and vision and coaching new racial equity teams in the district. On a different front, Jon Greenberg was working with a group of educators – Michael Peña from the Mukilteo School District, Tess Williams, who at the time was a grad student at Seattle University and now teaches at Cleveland High School, and Abraham Rodríguez from what was once called the Department of Equity and Race Relations (DERR), now called Department of Racial Equity Advancement (DREA). These educators joined forces with the then King County NAACP Education Chair, Rita Green, to write and present a resolution demanding ethnic studies in Seattle Public Schools. This effort was started by Jon after Superintendent Larry Nyland’s Equity and Race Advisory Committee (ERAC) submitted a proposal to Superintendent Nyland about an ethnic studies program that he ignored.

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packed classroom at Garfield High School’s MLK Day Celebration, 2017

One voice the team was missing was representation of grades K-6, so Jon went to Marquita to ask for suggestions. She gave him my name. He approached me one evening at an SEA representative assembly and I was all in. It was exactly the work and advocacy I was wanting to jump in to. The resolution was mostly written by the time I joined the team, so I just added a few things here and there about teaching to younger students. We presented the resolution at the 2017 MLK Day Celebration at Garfield High School to a packed room.

A few weeks later, Rita was approached by school board director, Rick Burke, who expressed interest in writing a resolution to bring ethnic studies into Seattle Public Schools. We met with Rick a few times and he led the work of the Seattle Public Schools resolution for ethnic studies, which was unanimously approved in July of 2017. The first task the school board set was to form a community task force to get input on how the program should look.

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school board mobilization in support of ethnic studies, 2017

The Struggle Against #ReWhiting Was Immediate

From the start of this work in the district, it has been a struggle to hold leadership accountable for not co opting, white washing, or erasing the work of community, students, and educators. When the School Board adopted their resolution for ethnic studies, Director Leslie Harris, currently the School Board president, made it very clear there was no money in the budget to support the work and we would have to create this program from nothing. We were just happy to have support – or what we thought was support – from the board and we were ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

The district then paid approximately $85,000 to a professional facilitator based out of California to lead the task force. We were fuming. They told us they had no money and then paid a consulting company to lead work it knew nothing about. The first task force meeting was a disaster. It was completely white-normed and parents and community members voicing their frustration with the district were shut down left and right. Voices of Color were not centered and microaggressions were rampant. Rita and I came up with a plan to commandeer the following meeting. We created an outline and a protocol to collect and mine recommendations and literally took over the following meeting. This is when I was getting to know Dr. Kyle Kinoshita, then Chief of Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction (CAI). It was his first year on the job. I remember Rita saying something along the lines of, “You are all racist and we’re taking over, now.” Kyle didn’t bat an eye and took a step back. That’s when I started to see he was one of us.

The facilitation firm that was paid $85,000 for the labor Rita and I performed did write up fancy-ish drafts of the task force recommendations, but I can tell you, from leading the facilitation myself, they boil down to these three demands:

 

  • Ethnic Studies must be co-created with the community

 

  • No textbooks should be used for the Ethnic Studies program because of their inherent racism and Eurocentric perspectives

 

  • Ethnic Studies must be an interdisciplinary, preK-12 program

 

This is also when I should have seen how the district has no qualms with exploiting the labor of womxn of Color, but I was on a mission.

Centering Educators of Color

Rita, Jon, Tess, and I were invited to district meetings to work out how the program would get off the ground. The task force had suggested we push the work through the racial equity teams, but Dr. Keisha Scarlett insisted that DREA does not do curriculum. This makes sense, and I respect Keisha’s vision. The racial equity teams seemed like a good idea considering we didn’t have a budget, but in hindsight, I can see how this would have been a disastrous plan. There is no systemic oversight of the racial equity teams, and the ethnic studies work would have been lost.

The thing is, nobody at the district level had any idea how to do this. I remember one meeting in which some district administrator – I forget whom – asked what the next steps were and everyone in the room turned to Jon and I. Jon said, “I don’t know. I’m just a classroom teacher.” What he meant by this statement is he didn’t have access to district systems and this should be the work of district administrators. While I agree with Jon in principle, I saw this as an opportunity to push in a genuine ethnic studies program, and not some watered-down multicultural education bullshit. That’s when I began to assemble the Ethnic Studies Work Group, now called the Ethnic Studies Advisory Group.

Because of my work with the Center for Racial Equity, I was able to very intentionally recruit critical educators of Color to this group. I made sure the ratio of educators of Color to white educators was 2 to 1. It has remained that or higher, with the majority of the educators in the group being womxn of Color.

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some members of the advisory group working on scope and sequence, 2019

In the meantime, Kyle was able to eek out funds for us of about $90,000 from the CAI budget, which was enough to pay for substitutes so these educators could leave their classrooms once or twice a month to start building the program. Unfortunately, some principals tried to #ReWhite this plan by writing letters to the superintendent complaining about the educators leaving their classrooms. Talking about fostering the leadership of educators of Color and then complaining about them taking advantage of opportunities for leadership is #ReWhiting.

Institutional Creep

This is another term I’m using that I’ve borrowed from Marquita. It’s a form of #ReWhiting, but takes place in less obvious ways.

Sometime at the end of the summer of 2017, a Black principal, who had been pushed out of her post at an elementary school and assigned to a post at the district office, was named Ethnic Studies Program Manager. This position was created solely as a place keeper for this principal who had several harassment, intimidation, and bullying claims lodged against her by staff of Color. The education association made an agreement with the district and the principal’s association to remove her from any supervisory duty. Here we come back to the exploitation of womxn of Color. This principal had no background in ethnic studies and frequently admitted she was not prepared to do this job, but the district saw a Black woman and thought that was good enough. They set her up for failure.

Looking back, I can give her grace and recognize district leadership is to blame for what happened next, but in the moment I was enraged. First, I had been leading this work all along and one day, I received an email announcing this appointment. No explanation. No warning. While I was a bit perturbed, I was also somewhat relieved because I was still teaching full time and all of this extracurricular work was taking a toll on my family. But then…

While we were writing the BLM@School lessons, the Ethnic Studies Program Manager was going from group to group asking, “Do you really think we should be working on this? All lives matter.” During professional development sessions in which we were introducing ethnic studies, the program manager would say things like, “Ethnic studies is all about learning about our friends.” I would have to come behind her and correct this multicultural nonsense. When the BLM@School week rolled around in February of 2018, the Ethnic Studies Program Manager was part of a group of faith leaders who rallied against the theme of Black trans and queer identity and encouraged parents to keep their kids home from school on that day.

The entire time she was the program manager, she was getting the pay and I was doing the work. I was still leading the work group and teaching full time. The only difference is that I had to clean up any misinformation she spread and push back against her bigotry. Again, in hindsight I see this was the institution exploiting both of us. When she was pushed out of the program manager position and it became a possibility that I could step into it, I began to see this exploitation and wonder if I really wanted to go deeper into it, but I was on a mission.

Progress

Kyle was able to put aside even more money for ethnic studies. This past school year I worked with a $300,000 budget. I could write loads about what I and the advisory group have accomplished this year, but instead I’ll include this timeline I recently created for the school board. I think I left a few things off, but even so, this is a lot of work to be done in just one year! If this is hard to see, click here for the full report.

timeline

Most of my work this past year has been curriculum development and professional development. We contracted a company called Cyborg Mobile, whose staff is 100% people of Color, to build a website to house the materials being created for our program. As I write this, I am currently defending this work from being #ReWhited by leaders in Seattle Public Schools who have blocked the release of what Cyborg Mobile created and have been having meetings about a plan to create a different site, all while not telling me about their meetings or their plan.

Not all things have been #ReWhited. The crown jewel in all of this was the Ethnic Studies Summer Institute – a two-week long, 60 hour, intensive anti-racist educator professional development attended by 100 educators from across Western Washington. The bulk of the sessions were led by the educators of Color from the Center for Racial Equity and the Ethnic Studies Advisory Group. We had nationally recognized scholars like Dr. Wayne Au and Dr. Django Paris leading sessions. This institute was entirely – and I can say this without shame – entirely – conceived, planned, and managed by me. Marquita helped in terms of emotional and logistical support, and has been my rock through this entire process. I make a point, however, to claim ownership here because the district continues to try to erase and minimize my impact.

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The NAACP Youth Coalition developed and facilitated a student panel at the Ethnic Studies Summer Institute, 2019.

Here are some graphs of the data I collected from the evaluation form. When was the last time you went to a professional development where people used words like “transformative” and “life changing”?

graph1

Testimonial:

“This was a transformative experience. I was completely immersed in thinking critically about race, structures & systems, and teaching pedagogy. I thought about it all evening each day as I left, talked about what I was doing with family & friends, and even dreamed about how it would impact my practice these past two weeks.”

 

graph2

Testimonial:

“Very informative. I am not new to any of the concepts and I did not need convincing that Ethnic Studies is a necessary thing. That being said, the amount that I learned, talked with others, and reflected was profound. I am telling everyone I know that they have to do it next year.”

graph3

Testimonial:

“This has simply changed the way I look at teaching. I used to have this type of attitude about teaching, and working in SPS and the PS system made me feel like a robot who shot out equations and practice problems for my students. This institute reminded me that I can make my lessons through the ES lens and create way BETTER lessons and my students will actually RETAIN the mathematical skills.”

graph4

Testimonial:

“We will not ask for permission. We will move and do and figure out as we do. This was the best PD I have ever attended hands down.”

For the entire summary of data, click here.

#ReWhiting

All of these things I have accomplished were done using only about ⅓ of the budget Kyle allocated for me. For this reason, Kyle and I agreed the remainder of the budget should be spent on staff. We began to advocate for this in March of 2019. It’s September of 2019 now. School starts in three days. Kyle has retired, and I am being told the additional $300,000 he allocated for the coming school year may be used for other purposes since he’s gone. Ethnic Studies remains a program of one. My task is to build an interdisciplinary, preK-12 program for the largest district in the State of Washington; a district with approximately 54,000 students and 5,000 educators. In addition to building the program and creating curriculum, I’m tasked with training and supporting those 5,000 educators to teach Ethnic Studies. Why can’t I have a staff? I’ve heard two stories and one rumor:

  • Story one: The superintendent and chief of human resources can’t justify spending money on a program that is neither complete nor officially recognized/adopted by the board.

 

  • Story two: There are many requests for new positions in CAI and they all need to be weighed against each other because of scarcity of resources (remember, I have >$500,000 currently sitting in an account dedicated to ethnic studies).

 

  • Rumor: District leadership doesn’t trust me to manage a staff. This rumor comes from a racist blogger, but it’s not totally unbelievable. I know I’m seen as a threat. It’s not that they don’t think I’ll be successful. They’re afraid I’ll be successful.

Despite the gains and the very real and tangible affect the dedicated group of educators from both the Ethnic Studies Advisory Group and the Center for Racial Equity, we still have no mandate from leadership. Despite the effective leadership of Marquita and I, our work is continually dismissed and we are gatekept from decision making at the district level. Every space we exist in, we’ve had to fight for. I truly believe that our affect is why the current #ReWhiting is so intense. All of our gains have been in spite of district efforts, not because of them.

I can’t tell you what will happen next. I have committed to making this year about me and creating boundaries that prevent me from being exploited. One way I plan to accomplish this is to make all of the exploitation public, which is one of the reasons for this month’s topic. When I took this job, I took it accepting that I will be fired. This has given me the freedom to push as hard as I can, and I plan to push harder. Right now the Ethnic Studies Program needs community support more than ever to prevent its #ReWhiting.

Help me push:

Denise Juneau, Superintendent – Denise.Juneau@seattleschools.org

Dr. Diane DeBacker, CAO – dmdebacker@seattleschools.org

Board of Directors – SPSDirectors@seattleschools.org

Clover Codd, Chief of HR – clcodd@seattleschools.org