The 2020-2021 school year has come to a close in Seattle. It was a year that offered unprecedented challenges, from COVID-19 closing school doors across the city, to the pandemic’s impact on poverty, to the national racial reckoning in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd. Systemic inequities were laid bare as couches became classrooms, living rooms turned into lecture halls and kitchen tables transformed into science labs. 

Supporting the academic success of our students isn’t easy during a normal school year, and the challenges of the 2020-2021 school year made it exponentially harder. But in the face of these challenges, the school year ended with a lesson we should embrace: Our schools and students do better when our community steps-in to support. 

As CEO of the Alliance for Education, I’ve had a front-row seat to see what we can accomplish for our kids when we come together. For the last 25 years, the Alliance has worked in partnership with Seattle Public Schools. We support excellence in education for Seattle students by advancing racial equity and educational justice. We raise dollars to invest in innovative, impactful strategies centered in racial equity and design, and implement programs that increase equity and justice in the district. And, importantly, we bring together stakeholders to collaborate on making Seattle Public Schools more effective and more equitable. As the only organization in town working to generate resources, innovations and supports for all 104 Seattle public schools, we are in a unique position to convene and collaborate to address big challenges and drive positive change.

Recently, that unique position has been a real asset. Before the pandemic began, the Alliance raised $1.9 million in coordination with 13 philanthropic partners to support the creation of the first ever Office of African American Male Achievement (AAMA), a strategic initiative to intentionally cultivate the policies, structures and systems within our district to bring more racial equity into our schools. As the impacts of systemic racism were brought to the forefront across the nation and the world last year, the Office of AAMA was already in place here in Seattle, creating a sustaining effort to more effectively understand, respond to and improve the experiences of our Black students in Seattle Public Schools. 

As soon as COVID-19 hit Seattle, the Alliance began working with district leaders to make sure we understood what the district’s biggest challenges would be. We connected with our philanthropic partners to build their awareness of those challenges, and to give them perspective on what support would make the biggest impact. 

In March 2020, we created the Education Equity Fund, raising more than $3 million in in-kind and cash contributions to address student needs. That fund brought computers and Wi-Fi to students, food to families, training in remote instruction to educators and more. 


As the number of Seattle Public School students and families struggling with basic needs grew, we made sure we could offer fast, flexible and impactful support through the Right Now Needs Fund. The fund has been a crucial part of the Alliance’s COVID-19 response efforts, distributing more than $1.4 million to students and families across the district since the pandemic began, ensuring access to food, shelter, clothing, school supplies and health services. 

The last year highlighted exactly why the work of the Alliance and community collaboration on behalf of our students and schools is so critical. We were concretely reminded that districts cannot overcome unprecedented challenges or achieve the systemic change we need alone. We were also reminded that when local leadership, philanthropic donors, education stakeholders and the community come together, we can make innovative programs and creative solutions happen for our students, families and schools. Whether it’s an ordinary year or an extraordinary one, our district and our students are better off when the community surrounds them with support. 

As we put an unprecedented year behind us, we are so grateful for our educators and our community partners who stepped up to address the challenges of the 2020-2021 school year in remarkable ways. But the work continues. The impacts of the last year won’t disappear quickly, even with the miracle of a vaccine and the reopening of our schoolhouse doors. As students return to the classroom in the fall, community investment and engagement to support wellness and learning will be more essential than ever, especially for those students furthest from educational justice. At the Alliance, we will continue to work with our partners in the district, in philanthropy, in business and in the community to build a network of collaboration to make our district more equitable, more innovative and drive excellence. Join us.