More than 500 people attended Mayor Ed Murray’s Education Summit as part of an effort to improve Seattle schools by addressing achievement disparities among students.
Mayor Ed Murray offered stark statistics at the start of his Education Summit:
In Seattle Public Schools, students of color met third-grade reading standards at a rate 30 percent lower than their white classmates. They graduate at a rate 24 percent lower than white students. And a third of Seattle students of color attend a high-poverty school, while a third of white Seattle students attend a private school.
“I highlight these statistics not to point a finger at the school district,” said Murray. “These are all our students, these outcomes are all of our outcomes, and they are more than these statistics.”
The summit, held Saturday at Garfield High School, was the second of three phases of the city’s effort to improve Seattle schools by addressing education-achievement disparities among students. More than 500 politicians, educators, policymakers, parents and students attended the all-day event.
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They heard presentations from education leaders, child-development experts and students. The focus: first admitting that disparities affecting students of color and low-income students exist, and coming up with solutions through partnerships among the city, school district and community organizations.
“We have a gap,” district Superintendent Larry Nyland said. “We need to own that and acknowledge it.”
One solution already recommended to the district is establishing a department devoted to the needs of black male students. The district’s African American Male Scholars Think Tank modeled its recommendation after Oakland, Calif.’s Office of African American Male Achievement, the first school-district office in the nation devoted to black males.
The Oakland office was founded in 2010 and focuses on the needs of the individual students and the education system, Executive Director Chris Chatmon said. He played a video showing students in the program talking about improving their GPAs and wanting to cure cancer.
“We’re treating the fish while also addressing the toxic ecosystem,” Chatmon said.
Rainier Beach High School senior Ahlaam Ibraahim, 18, spoke about feeling that adults had a low expectation of her and her classmates, even when they got A’s in advanced classes.
“Why are your expectations of me so low? People were surprised that we could do it,” said Ibraahim, who is in Rainier Beach’s International Baccalaureate program. “The adults shouldn’t be telling us this. Those lowered expectations aren’t going to get us anywhere.”
Among the city, district and other groups, she added, there needs to be an actual partnership.
“You go to the district, who says, ‘It’s the city’s fault,’ ” she said. “You go to the city, and they say, ‘It’s the district’s fault.’ Let’s be adults. Let’s come up with a solution.”
The mayor’s office gathered input from more than 1,300 people through 20 community conversations in the months leading up to the summit. The suggestions consistently brought up at the meetings on how schools could improve included better community engagement, a more diverse teacher workforce and a greater focus on what happens after students graduate from high school.
In the next step, an Education Summit Advisory Group, as the last phase of the effort, will develop recommendations based on what was said during community conversations and at the education summit.