After 16 months studying how Seattle schools can better support male African-American students, an advisory committee made recommendations to the district’s superintendent. But district officials warn a budget crunch may prevent some recommendations from becoming a reality.
After decades in public education, Seattle schools chief Larry Nyland has whittled down his list of what it takes to provide a good education to four essentials.
First, set high standards. Second, hire good teachers. Third and fourth, monitor students’ progress and let teachers work in teams.
If all that’s in place, he said, “good things happen.”
But in Seattle, he said, all those elements don’t come together for all kids.
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“Unfortunately for us, it’s kind of like that (only) happens for white kids,” he said. “So we’ve got this huge gap where we’re doing really, really, really well with white kids and more average for our students of color.”
What’s stopping Seattle schools from making sure all four essentials are in place for all students — especially the African-American boys who, as a group, rank consistently at the bottom when it comes to test scores?
That’s what a few dozen black community leaders, business professionals and district officials set out to do in June 2016, when Nyland appointed them to a new African American Male Advisory Committee (AAMAC).
More than a year later, the AAMAC has submitted its final report to Nyland, with 17 goals.
Its recommendations include:
• Work with families to improve student attendance
• Connect each student with an adult who knows the student’s story, strengths and needs
• Provide more hands-on learning, especially in science, technology, engineering and math classes
• Help students create a plan for what they’ll do after high school and give them a chance to learn about the work world through mentorships and internships
• Recruit and retain more black teachers
• Commit five years of funding to improve school-family relationships
After reviewing the recommendations, Nyland found about 95 percent of them favorable, according to Brent Jones, the district’s chief of strategy and partnerships.
The other 5 percent, Jones said, were large ticket items that would cost several million dollars.
“He’s having a hard time trying to figure out how we’ll pay for some of the things,” Jones said of Nyland. “We’re going into a tough budget next year.”
Donald Felder didn’t buy that line.
A former principal, Felder participated in both the AAMAC and its predecessor, the similarly named African American Male Think Tank.
Overall, Felder said he was satisfied with the committee’s recommendations. But like Nyland, he’s spent decades in education and said it’s typical to hear money cited as a reason why the district can’t do something.
“I call that just an excuse,” he said. “Because there is money in Seattle. If the superintendent truly believed, he would be the cheerleader to bring the money into the fold.”
Jones stressed that nothing’s set in stone. He will work over the next month to create some sort of dashboard or scorecard that families and the public can use to measure the district’s progress on the recommendations.