Students at Nova High School say teacher displacements in Seattle schools will deal a severe blow to alternative schools that serve small, concentrated populations of vulnerable students.
To protest the displacement of teachers around Seattle Public Schools, about 100 students walked out of classes Tuesday at The Nova Project, an alternative Central District high school, to occupy City Hall.
Once inside, the students scattered across the lobby, some forming a loose circle on the floor, others sitting on the staircase. In groups or alone, they stood to share stories of how teachers saw them through depression, social isolation and academic failure.
Last week, Seattle Public Schools leadership notified principals of staffing cuts at nearly 30 schools, citing lower-than-expected enrollment. Since the announcement, parents, students and teachers from Nova and other schools have urged the district to reconsider, arguing the cuts will deal a severe blow to alternative schools that serve small, concentrated populations of vulnerable students.
Nova, known as a refuge from traditional high schools, especially for students who identify as LGBT, is scheduled to lose two of its 20 teachers — which would mean eight fewer classes for its approximately 260 students, teachers said. The Seattle World School, where 98 percent of students are English learners, will lose one teacher.
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A smaller group of students questioned Superintendent Denise Juneau during a community meeting at North Seattle College on Monday evening.
“You say that these cuts are all to save money, but you make four times what the average teacher in Seattle makes. How does that math out?” said Jordan Rempel-White, a senior at Nova. (The average teacher salary in Seattle rose with the newest contract to about $86,000 a year, making Juneau’s $295,000 annual salary about 3.5 times that amount.)
Juneau thanked the students for their feedback.
“My mother led an alternative school,” she told the crowd. “I get it.”
In an interview after the event ended, Juneau said there would be no room in the budget to readjust the numbers for schools affected by cuts.
The district receives money based on enrollment and since projections fell short this year, the teacher transfers help curtail a revenue shortfall of about $7.5 million. There also will be a hiring slowdown in the district’s central office, according to Juneau. Because of a new cap limiting how much money the district can collect through local property-tax levies, Juneau and her staff say the district is headed toward financial uncertainty.
“There are some hard decisions coming forward involving programs and people,” she said.
Staffing adjustments are a regular occurrence for the district, but in past years the district has had enough funds to prevent displacements.
Though displaced teachers are still guaranteed employment with the district — either through a transfer to another school, or by becoming a substitute — seniority rules mean that many of those forced to leave their schools were hired just a few weeks ago, unless another teacher volunteers.
Trailing behind the students on their hilly walk to downtown, Lydia Wynn, a math teacher at Nova, said it’s been three weeks since she started working for the district, and some students have already come out to her. She’s at risk of being displaced because of her recent hire date.
“I’ve struggled with this [news] a lot,” she said. “You spend so much time preparing, and then to have them ripped away — it’s horrible.”
Teachers at Nova are vetted during the hiring process to make sure they’re a good fit for students at the school, teachers say. Wynn was asked about her experiences with the LGBT community and youth, and to share her preferred pronouns. Once they’re hired, teachers become “coordinators,” meaning they are similar to homeroom teachers and counselors to a small group of students.
Jack Darling, a senior at Nova, said because teachers serve so many roles for each student at the school, the cuts mean students lose a relationship with a trusted adult. Personal struggles led him to drop out of school in eighth grade. Once he got to Nova, he said, the teachers gave him a reason to return every year.
“They’re always asking: What do you need?”