The Seattle School Board is inching closer to a possible 10-year partnership between Washington Middle School and the Technology Access Foundation (TAF), a proposal that’s put the school at the heart of a contentious debate over gifted education in Seattle.
On Wednesday night, board members advanced a draft agreement between the Central District school and the nonprofit, which aims to get more students of color into STEM careers. A board subcommittee opted to move the plan forward.
If approved in a final vote on Jan. 22, the agreement would begin a gradual but dramatic shift at the school starting next fall. Washington Middle School is one of several Seattle schools that serve students designated as “Highly Capable” in separate settings from the rest of the student body. The discussion over TAF comes amid pitched debate over whether to blend gifted students with their peers district-wide to address racial imbalance in gifted cohort schools.
At Washington, white students make up 36% of enrollment but 58% of the gifted program, according to data from the district. Eighty percent of the white student population is enrolled in highly capable classes.
TAF doesn’t track students by academic aptitude. Instead, district officials said that if the partnership moves forward, the school would offer its state-mandated services for gifted students in the same classes as the general student population, starting with next year’s sixth grade class. (Current seventh and eighth graders in school’s cohort classes would not be affected.)
District officials say Washington Middle would benefit from this program because academic growth for the school’s students of color, a focus area for the district, is lower than the district-wide average. TAF, which offers students job shadows and internships, uses an academic model that emphasizes technology and project-based learning. The organization, which started as an after-school program in 1996, runs TAF@Saghalie with the Federal Way School District, a 6-12 school that’s been praised for high graduation college entrance rates.
“This is not a silver bullet,” said Heather Lechner, TAF’s executive director of education. “We recognize change happens over time.”
Discussions over adopting the TAF model at the school comes during pitched debate over whether to blend gifted students with their peers district-wide to address racial imbalance in gifted cohort schools.
The timing of the TAF decision is unfortunate, said Board member Liza Rankin, because she thinks the contentious debate over the district’s gifted education policy has distracted from conversations about the potential benefit the program could bring.
Some Washington Middle School parents have said they were skeptical that the school will be able to meet students’ needs outside of the cohort model.
But some have concern beyond the impact that the partnership would have on gifted students.
While many staff members at the school aren’t fans of the cohort model, they also said they feel the district made plans for improving the school without consulting them, said Elaine Harger, a Washington Middle School librarian.
If approved, the partnership would cost $1.1 million in the first three years.