These are the stories of parents, students, educators and advocates who make us who we are.
Regina Elmi, Co-Founder, Somali Parent Education Board
Regina Elmi, co-founder of the Somali Parent Education Board (SPEB), recently sat down with WA Charters to discuss how SPEB is delivering on its mission…
Regina Elmi, co-founder of the Somali Parent Education Board (SPEB), recently sat down with WA Charters to discuss how SPEB is delivering on its mission to close the education gap by elevating parent leaders. WA Charters is proud to have SPEB as a community partner. SPEB’s partnership has been instrumental in helping to inform WA Charters approach to parent engagement.
What is the mission of the SPEB?
Our mission and main focus is to close the education gap by promoting parent leaders in the education system.
We believe that, to successfully meet the needs of Somali students, parents, educators and advocates need to be the agents of change that are committed to the advancement of the values of creating equality in the education system. This would involve changing previous approaches and taking a more direct approach to understanding the Somali students and their families’ needs. This would also involve educating and helping the Somali parents, the Somali youth, the schools and community members tap into their energies in order to allow a stronger collective approach to educating the students.
This is where SPEB comes in. We can be be instrumental in breaching the communication gap between the Somali parents and educators. We will start by addressing the need to reach out to the Somali parents so that we can build a strong partnership between schools and Somali parents – with the intent of providing equal and better educational opportunities for the students. Once that happens, we believe that we will see a positive change in the way Somali students and families perceive the education system.
As educators understand the lived experiences of the Somali families, only then will they be able to provide a competitive and adequate education that enables the Somali students to be successful and capable citizens within their communities and society at large.
How do you define true and authentic parent engagement?
Engagement is a term that we often hear being used in education circles. It is a lot easier to say than do, especially when referring to diverse parents. Some schools mistakenly believe they are practicing engagement when they host a town hall meeting or planning session. But it isn’t enough to have meetings where educators talk “at” parents instead of “with” them. Students become better when their parents and families are truly involved. Research indicates that students with involved parents have higher graduation rates, better attendance and more positive attitudes than students who don’t have parental support.
When all parents are treated a like, when they are given the proper space to occupy and are invited to be a part of the education circles and decision making tables, then they will be engaged and involved, this is what SPEB defines as true and authentic parent engagement.
Can you offer some examples of quality parent engagement have you seen in your work with public schools throughout the Puget Sound? What are those schools doing differently than the status quo?
The schools that are doing well are listening to the parents, and are involving them in the real issues that are being discussed and also inviting them to discussions before decisions that are about their children are made. They are being accessible, they plan activities in safe places and at times that are convenient for all parents, including their places of worship, the workplace, community venues and people’s houses. One size doesn’t fit all: parent/family interests and needs are as diverse as each individual student, and there isn’t a right way or only way. It is critical that efforts are kept relevant and are always culturally sensitive and aware, and the educators at these schools are making authentic spaces for the parents and are including them in the education of their children.
What are some positive changes that you see with schools that have taken on authentic parent engagement?
When schools take on authentic parent engagement, we have seen less disciplinary actions being taken against students, because parents were a parent of a preventative plan and not being notified at the last minute. We have seen grades get better, graduation and college acceptance rates increase, and most importantly, we see positive changes in the daily interactions between the students and educators.
What should all educators ask themselves when they start the work of engaging with diverse families?
Educators should engage with the community they are going to work with and bring in the parents to be part of the conversations – and also involve them in the decision making in a culturally appropriate way that is responsive and open minded. In our first annual community panel, SPEB brought together a committee of parents, educators and community members to really dive deep into the notion of authentic parent/family engagement and what it means. From that panel we understood the miscommunication that is widespread in the education circles. If you jump into activities without doing the research, analysis and planning first, you won’t get the desired results. True engagement requires a serious investment of time and commitment, along with creativity, innovation and a sincere willingness to listen and respond to parents’ and students’ needs.
Walter Chen, Principal, Green Dot South Seattle
WA Charters sat down with Walter Chen, Green Dot Public Schools’ founding principal for its new middle school in Seattle’s Rainier Valley, set to open…
WA Charters sat down with Walter Chen, Green Dot Public Schools’ founding principal for its new middle school in Seattle’s Rainier Valley, set to open to sixth graders in fall 2017. Here’s what we learned about where Walter’s been, what fuels his passion for public education, and what he is envisioning for a new high-quality charter public school in his local neighborhood.
When did you discover that public education was your calling?
I began my teaching career as a middle school math teacher in South Central Los Angeles, where I taught for six years. A native Washingtonian, I returned to the Pacific Northwest in 2010 to teach in Renton Public Schools. I fell in love with the students and families in the Rainier Valley and worked as a Principal Intern at South Shore PK-8 School in Rainier Beach while completing my administrative credential. I’ve had the privilege to serve as Assistant Principal at Aki Kurose Middle School and most recently was the proud Principal of Graham Hill Elementary.
What inspired your shift from a teacher to a school leader?
I had access to some incredible coaches and mentors who guided me through some challenging times as a first-year teacher. Early on I was also fortunate to step into leadership positions such as math department chair and new teacher mentor. These collective experiences showed me the impact of strong coaching and professional development on teacher practice and student learning. I knew someday that I wanted to make a broader influence on students by collaborating and working with adults as a school leader.
Tell us about your own educational history.
I grew up and attended public schools on Mercer Island. After high school I attended Pomona College in Claremont, CA where I graduated with a B.A. in Economics. I earned a Master of Education and teaching certificate from the University of California, Los Angeles. Most recently I earned my administrative credential from the University of Washington’s Danforth Educational Leadership Program (Woof!).
What is your personal connection to the region?
I am a Pacific Northwest native, born in Seattle after my parents emigrated from Taiwan to attend college in the United States. Since returning from California I’ve now worked and/or lived in the Rainier Valley for the past seven years. As a resident, husband, and now father, I feel deeply connected to this community and to the social, emotional and academic well being of children and families in the Rainier Valley. I believe strongly that great schools form the foundation for great communities and outcomes for our children.
You and your wife are new parents! How has becoming a parent changed or informed your vision for and your work in public education in Seattle?
I’ve always sought to teach and lead in a school as if my own child was sitting in the classroom. Becoming a parent has made this work even more real by putting my daughter’s face to every decision that’s made and every child that comes into my office. It’s solidified how much I believe we should be creating schools that meet the high standard, care, and rigor we’d want for our own kids.
What makes you most excited about Green Dot Public Schools opening a school in the Rainier Valley?
Southeast Seattle is such a vibrant and diverse community—in terms of race, income, age and religion—and one that’s so passionate about what’s going on in the neighborhood and invested in making things better, especially our schools. During the last few months I’ve had the opportunity to engage with community members about their hopes and dreams for a new school and people are genuinely excited about a school with a college-going culture that authentically welcomes families to the table. I’m excited to create an inclusive space where we can learn from our diverse families while celebrating the gifts and culture that every family brings. Most importantly, I’m just thrilled to build an excellent school right here in my local neighborhood.
What drew you to shift from your previous role as a district principal to this new role as founding school leader at Green Dot South Seattle?
I’ve always been drawn to Green Dot’s mission to serve and prepare all students for college from my time in Los Angeles when my wife was a Chemistry teacher at Animo South LA. I was intrigued to learn Green Dot was coming to Washington state, and the opportunity to help found a new school in my own neighborhood was too extraordinary to pass up, especially as I learned more about Green Dot’s efforts to authentically engage with families and the local community. I see my work now as an extension of my work at Graham Hill and I’m thrilled for the opportunity to build a joyful and rigorous college-going culture from the ground up.
Is there anything that you would you like to share with parents who are considering Green Dot as a middle school option for their children?
At Green Dot we have an unwavering belief in every student’s potential and are committed to building deep, caring relationships with our families and community to provide students the best educational experience possible. We believe every student should have the option to attend college and find a career of their choosing, and our teachers and staff will work tirelessly to put them on that path. I would encourage parents to learn as much as possible about the public school options in the neighborhood and welcome them to attend one of our information sessions. I’d also love to connect with them directly to learn about how we might be great partners. Families can learn more and enroll a student on our website or if you have questions free to call us at 206-305-0646 or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
I often find myself wishing to be in multiple places at once, whether at school or out and about on the weekend. Having the Flash’s speed would come in quite handy.
La Escuela Pública Chárter de mi hijo está haciendo que mis sueños para él se hagan realidad Por Reyna Santiago Este articulo fue publicado en…
La Escuela Pública Chárter de mi hijo está haciendo que mis sueños para él se hagan realidad
Por Reyna Santiago
Este articulo fue publicado en el periodico La Raza del Noroeste vea aqui
Quiero que mi hijo tenga todas las oportunidades que nunca tuve. Quiero que vaya a la universidad y tenga un trabajo exitoso en el que no viva de cheque a cheque. Hoy en día, sé que él está en el camino adecuado para tener éxito debido a la educación de alta calidad que está recibiendo en su escuela pública chárter.
Bryan tiene 12 años, y está en el séptimo grado en la escuela Destiny Charter Middle School en Tacoma.
Soy de Oaxaca, México, y he vivido en Tacoma por los últimos 13 años. Después de escuchar que una escuela pública chárter estaba llegando a mi comunidad, asistí a una sesión informativa. Aprendí que las escuelas pública chárter son: gratuitas, abierta a todos los estudiantes, y con más flexibilidad que otras escuelas públicas porque pueden personalizar el plan de estudios para satisfacer las necesidades de mi hijo y de otros estudiantes.
Me gustó que Bryan iba a ser parte de algo nuevo y parte de una comunidad más pequeña donde tendría un apoyo más individualizado. Ahora se encuentra en su segundo año en Destiny, y nunca nos arrepentiremos de nuestra decisión.
Antes de asistir a Destiny, Bryan tuvo problemas en matemáticas, a pesar de mis intentos de apoyarlo. En Destiny, rápidamente se recuperó en la materia. Antes batallaba para que el hiciera la tarea de matemáticas, pero hoy en día hace toda su tarea sin que yo le diga.
Como padre, nunca he visto maestros tan entusiastas, apasionados y cometidos. Para Bryan, que tiene una buena relación con su maestro de matemáticas en particular, le ha
permitido tener éxito en esta materia. Bryan no está solo en su éxito; estudiantes de otras escuelas públicas chárter de Washington y de Destiny están teniendo éxito académicamente. En Destiny, los estudiantes crecieron un promedio de 3 niveles de grado en la lectura en un solo año escolar.
Aquí hay algunos datos nacionales para los padres que pueden estar preguntándose sobre las escuelas públicas chárter. Un nuevo informe nacional llamado,“Charter Schools Serving Hispanic Communities,” por la National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, muestra que las escuelas públicas chárter están ayudando a los estudiantes latinos tener éxito. De acuerdo con Stanford University’s Center for Education Reform and Outcomes, ningún otro grupo beneficia más de las escuelas públicas chárter que los latinos que están aprendiendo inglés, quienes obtuvieron 72 días adicionales de matemáticas y 79 días adicionales de lectura por cada año escolar. También avanzaron a niveles en matemáticas al mismo ritmo que sus compañeros americanos, cuyo inglés es su primer idioma.
De acuerdo con el National Council of La Raza y el Center for American Progress, escuelas chárter de alto rendimiento con grupos grandes de estudiantes latinos y estudiantes hispanohablantes, tienen más éxito que otras escuelas públicas cuando se trata de la educación de estos estudiantes. Las escuelas públicas chárter ofrecen más tiempo de aprendizaje, proporcionan apoyo en otros idiomas sin perder el enfoque hacia el contenido, y muestran niveles elevados hacia al receptividad cultural y la participación de las familias.
La escuela pública chárter de mi hijo ve a los padres como expertos y colaboradores. En Destiny, me pareció impresionante encontrar a personal latino y empleados que hablan español con quienes me puedo comunicar directamente. Cuando visitó la escuela o voy a eventos, siempre hay alguien bilingüe para apoyarme. La escuela también se comunica con los padres a través de mensajes de texto, que recibo en español. Por primera vez, hablar con sus maestros y el personal en la escuela es fácil. De hecho, hace apenas tres semanas, me dieron una llamada diciéndome cuán bien está progresando Bryan!
Otra razón por la que elegí inscribir a mi hijo en Destiny es debido al transporte. Al igual que cualquier otra escuela pública, las escuelas públicas chárter ofrecen transporte a las familias de la zona. Esto es especialmente importante para mí porque yo trabajo en el turno de la noche. Sabiendo que la parada de autobús está a sólo una cuadra de mi casa, tengo la tranquilidad de saber que Bryan está seguro de ida y de regreso a la escuela.
Animo a otros padres que visiten a su escuela chárter local. Conozcan al director, personal y maestros. Para determinar los beneficios de una escuela pública charter y si funcionara para su hijo.
Hay ocho escuelas públicas chárter abiertas en Washington: tres en Tacoma, tres en el condado de King, y dos en Spokane. Otras tres escuelas han sido autorizados para abrir el próximo año en el sur de Seattle, oeste de Seattle y en Walla Walla, y quienes trabajan por ellas están haciéndolo duro para abrir más en las comunidades que necesitan opciones de escuelas públicas de alta calidad.
My Son’s Charter School Is Making My Dreams For Him Come True
By Reyna Santiago
This piece was originally published in Spanish in La Raza NW’s October Education Issue here.
I want my son to have every opportunity that I never had. I want him to go to college, and to have a successful job where he is not living paycheck to paycheck. Today, I know he is on a path to success because of the high-quality education he is receiving at his charter public school.
Bryan is 12 years old, and he is in seventh grade at Destiny Charter Middle School in Tacoma.
I am originally from Oaxaca, Mexico, and have lived in Tacoma for 13 years. After hearing that a charter public school was coming to my community, I attended an informational session. I learned what a charter school is: a type of public school that is tuition-free, open to all students, and able to be more flexible than other public schools in personalizing curriculum to meet my son’s needs.
I liked that Bryan would be part of something new and part of a smaller community where he would have more individualized support. He is now in his second year at Destiny, and we will never regret our choice.
Before attending Destiny, Bryan struggled math, despite my attempts to intervene. At Destiny, he quickly got caught up. We used to battle over his math homework, today he loves the subject.
As a parent, I’ve never seen such enthusiastic and passionate, committed teachers. For Bryan, having a strong relationship with his math teacher in particular has enabled him to succeed in that subject. Bryan is not alone in his success; students at Destiny and Washington’s other charter public schools are succeeding academically. At Destiny, students grew an average of 3 grade levels in reading in just one school year!
Here are some national facts for parents who may be wondering about charter public schools. A new national report, “Charter Schools Serving Hispanic Communities,” by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, shows that charter public schools are helping Latino students succeed. According to Stanford University’s Center for Education Reform and Outcomes, no other group benefits more from charter public schools than Latino English learners, who gain 72 extra days of math and 79 extra days of reading per year at charter schools, advancing at levels in math at the same pace as their white, non-English learner peers.
And according to the National Council of La Raza and the Center for American Progress, high-performing charter schools with significant portions of Latino and English learners do a better job than other public schools when it comes to educating our students. Charter public schools offer extended learning time, provide second language support without losing a focus on content, and show elevated levels of cultural responsiveness and family engagement.
My son’s charter school sees parents as experts and partners. At Destiny, I found it refreshing to find Latino and other Spanish-speaking staff who I can communicate with directly. When I drop by or attend events, here are always bilingual staff to support me. Twice a month, parents can have coffee with the principal. The school also updates parents through text messages which I receive in Spanish. For the first time, talking to his teachers and principal is easy. Just three weeks ago, I actually got a call telling me how great Bryan is doing!
Another reason why I chose to enroll my son at Destiny is because of transportation. Like any other public school, charter public schools offer transportation to families in the area. This is especially important to me because I work the graveyard shift. Knowing his bus stop is just one block from home, I can rest assured Bryan is safe to and from school. I encourage other parents to go visit your local charter school. Meet the principal, get to know the teachers. You too can experience the benefits of a charter public school.
There are eight charter public schools open in Washington: three in Tacoma, three in King County, and two in Spokane. Three more schools have been authorized to open next year in South Seattle, West Seattle, and Walla Walla, and advocates are working hard to open more in communities that need high-quality public school options.
Our Children Are the Future. No, Really. By Natasha Lemke For years I had heard people say, “Our children are the future,” and rolled my…
Our Children Are the Future. No, Really.
By Natasha Lemke
For years I had heard people say, “Our children are the future,” and rolled my eyes at the platitude. Sure, I thought, but what does that mean for me today? Not until I had to enroll my own daughter in public school did the meaning and truth of the phrase hit home.
Her first year in school, my daughter Noelani would come home bored and restless. She dreaded sitting through school the next day. I wanted to find a better fit for her but thought the public school in the neighborhood and private schools—too expensive to actually consider—were my only options.
I grew frustrated thinking, if our children are the future, why don’t we give all of them the best education possible? Why don’t I, as a parent, have any real options to set my daughter up for success? Is she destined for a subpar education and a subpar future, based on the zip code we live in?
But then I discovered SOAR Academy.
After one year at SOAR, the positive impact on Noelani has been astounding. She comes home excited to share with us what she learned that day.
I am so proud to watch my daughter grow into an academically successful student and socially aware individual with the help of teachers and staff at SOAR. My hopes and dreams for my daughter’s future are for her to realize and accomplish her own hopes and dreams and to have a support network to nurture her along that path.
To all parents who have the same hopes and dreams for their children, I encourage you to take a tour of SOAR Academy, Destiny Middle School, or Summit Olympus High School, and give Tacoma’s charter public schools a chance.
Tacoma’s charter public schools are now enrolling for 2016-17, and are hosting tours on July 28th. To learn more about these options and the school tour, visit:
Danielle Davies is the proud mother of two Tacoma charter public school students. “To say that these schools have transformed my children’s learning experiences is…
Danielle Davies is the proud mother of two Tacoma charter public school students. “To say that these schools have transformed my children’s learning experiences is an understatement,” she says.
Danielle’s son was diagnosed with dyslexia when he entered the first grade at SOAR Academy last fall. His teachers quickly developed a plan of action to help him prosper in and out of the classroom. As a result, Danielle’s son has developed confidence and achieved great success in school. “Thanks to his incredible teachers, he now enjoys reading—a triumph we didn’t consider possible in such a short time,” Danielle reports.
Danielle’s daughter is excelling in the college focused environment at Destiny Charter Middle School. “She’s excited to go to school in the morning,” says Danielle. “And learning is her top priority.” Danielle’s daughter had struggled emotionally and academically, but her new school has has had a dramatic impact and the whole family revels in her happiness.
“These two charter schools have given my kids so much enthusiasm for their education, and our family hope for a bright future,” says a beaming Danielle Davies.
“This has been a five-year struggle,” Jessica Garcia said when asked about why she told the state Legislature to fund Washington charter schools. “My son…
“This has been a five-year struggle,” Jessica Garcia said when asked about why she told the state Legislature to fund Washington charter schools. “My son had a great deal of difficulty throughout his time in school. He was bullied relentlessly to the point where he had broken teeth, a busted nose and a hairline fracture in his cheekbone. He never reported the attacks because he didn’t know he could. He needed to be in a place where he was getting better attention and that place was not our local school. Some kids can thrive in many schools. Not mine.”
Jessica wanted a better education for her younger child, but uprooting her family to another school district was not a viable solution. The best option for Jessica’s daughter, Isadora, was to sign over educational guardianship to get her into a different district, but Jessica struggled with the implications.
“Signing over guardianship, in any form, is not something any parent would ever wish to do. It’s heart wrenching as a parent, you feel like a true failure. But our local district middle school option is not, in our eyes, a desirable choice. Honestly, could it even be considered a choice if forced upon you?”
So when the appropriately named Destiny Charter Middle School opened, Jessica’s daughter was there ready and waiting. Isadora is having the time of her life, loving her classes, her teachers, and her friends. Thanks to the state legislature restoring funding to charter public schools, she has not been uprooted, her parents did not have to sign over her guardianship, and Isadora is still happy.
Shirline Wilson, mother of three, enrolled her son Miles in Rainier Prep as soon as the state adopted the public charter program. As a technology…
Shirline Wilson, mother of three, enrolled her son Miles in Rainier Prep as soon as the state adopted the public charter program. As a technology professional whose husband began his career as an educator, it was important to her that her youngest got a quality education that fit his unique learning and socio-emotional needs.
“When my family exercised our vote in favor of charter schools two years ago, we had every intention of following our vote at the earliest opportunity,” she wrote in a recent editorial. “While we understand there is no silver bullet that addresses every student’s needs, the very existence of choice creates a window of opportunity for our family to find programs that address our child’s passion for learning and match his strengths.”
For Shirline, the appeal of Rainier Prep is having more involvement in her child’s education, and she appreciates the school’s emphasis on diversity.
“It is unacceptable that children of color—my own included—are being so tragically and vastly underserved for their basic education needs,” she says. “For the last four years, we have turned to a private school to give my son the education he needs and deserves, and it has been a great expense for our family.”
Rainier Prep offers more than financial relief. The school provides “what our child needs emotionally, culturally and academically,” says Shirline. “It’s about seeing him happy and loving learning for a lifetime.”