What was your major in college and why did you pursue it? What degree did you earn and where was it attained?
During the later years of the 60’s and after graduation, I was one of those high school students who failed to meet the standards of a four-year college. However, I still crossed the threshold of the University of Washington -- the “civil rights” movement opened the door. Aimlessly, for the next three years, I tackled the typical college challenges without a career goal. However, as destiny would have it, in my third year, a caring professor intervened. He served as my academic coach and spiritual leader. And in this newfound relationship, he nurtured my personal gifts until I discovered a love for teaching and serving children. I pursued this passion relentlessly, finding work as a tutor, youth coach, and recreation leader. One day, unexpectedly, an official from the University of Washington’s educational department offered me an internship to teach in an urban school for two years. Even though this affair extended my stay in college, I didn’t hesitate to accept the offer. During this period, I engaged in the theory of instruction while learning the practicum from a master teacher. It was a great experience and on the day of graduation: I strutted to the podium in a purple and gold robe, I received degrees in education, recreation administration, and African American studies in 1973.
Tell us about your education. Where did you attend school (K-12 and beyond)?
Growing up, raising a family, and serving as an educator allows me to share a personal story about being a graduate and employee of Seattle Public Schools. It all began in a kindergarten class at Van Asselt Elementary School, an old two story building located on the fringes of a housing project. My stay was short. In the middle of the school year, my mother purchased a home in Seattle’s Central Area around 1956. It was a period for poor black folks to buy homes. The neighborhood was in transition: As Blacks moved into the neighborhoods, Jews and white people moved to the outer edges of the community or they escaped to the suburbs. In consequence, Horace Mann Elementary, my new school, transitioned to serve a black student body. When I reached Washington Middle School, the make-up of the study body was more integrated: Blacks and Asians. Three years later, I graduated to Garfield High School, and once again, the face of student population was black.
After my freshman year, a public outcry to integrate Seattle Public Schools rang out in the Black community. If parents weren’t pushing their children to go, the strangers in the neighborhood actively recruited Blacks to attend white high schools. Without consciously considering our good deed, a few of my friends choose Cleveland High School, a small school in the middle of the Bacon Hill community.
What positions have you held in education in the Seattle area since your college graduation? At what level(s) of education have you taught (K-12, college, etc.)? Describe the differences in your work at each, if applicable.
With a teaching certificate in my hand, I was ready to work for Seattle Public Schools. However, after interviewing steadily for months, I wasn’t able to convince even one principal of my readiness to teach. Consequently, with a baby on the way, I felt that my sole choice was to drive a public bus. Each day, on every route, I wondered about my misfortune. Of the forty interns, I was the only one without a position. Then one day, a friend called to report that a group of students at Coleman Elementary had forced three teachers to resign. The principal wanted anybody and I was available and excited to serve at the school where I completed my internship. Before my appointment, the principal declared that these students were “losers.” Nevertheless, I accepted the position, and during the first week, relationships and expectations were established. By the end of the year, this wild bunch of students not only doubled their standardized test scores, they received a standing ovation for their Martin Luther King performance.
The next year I joined Interagency Academy, a program co-sponsored by Seattle Public School and Juvenile Rehabilitation and Administration. Using a systemic approached for planning, teams of teachers and social workers set up individualized services for juvenile offenders, who were paroled from correctional settings. Our training was systemic and the team’s performance was evaluated using the following six elements:
These attributes required the staff to function in an interdisciplinary manner. We exchanged roles and duties, from functioning as teachers, to working as social workers to acting like case managers. And in reflection, these experiences framed how I would serve children as a head teacher, consultant (statewide), and program manager and later as a principal. Serving in these roles with Interagency Academy staff for twenty-nine years, I’m proud to report that these attributes still guide the services that are rendered to students. They are the foundation for extraordinary results at each school site. Plus, they could be viewed as part of a framework for reforming comprehensive schools.
As a key leader of this organization, our schools grew from five, serving an average of 125 students in 1980, to eighteen sites, with an enrollment of over 600 youth by 2004. During my tenure, I found joy opening educational centers for delinquents, foster, and homeless youth. My enjoyment was fostering hope, challenging students to examine their beliefs about achieving while building their efficacy for learning. The opportunity to observe youth altering destructive behavioral patterns helped me form a hypothesis that education prevents or diminishes delinquency. As a way of investigating this position I pursued a doctorate in 1995 and graduated in 2000 from Union University. When I walked the stage this time, it was confirmation that education is a powerful tool for preventing delinquency.
What do you enjoy most about your job and your career? How does working in the Seattle area play into this?
I will forever be linked as an advocate for children of color and those youth disenfranchised from society. Accordingly, I was never far away from projects that supported communities, its families, and their children. I serve on youth boards, leadership teams to reform our educational and correctional systems, and frequently present locally, and nationally. Today, after retirement, I continue to do educational advocacy by serving as an adjunct professor at Antioch University, consulting in the Philadelphia School District, and acting as an educational specialist with Casey Family Programs.
What is special/different about the education system in the Seattle area compared to others you may have encountered or heard about?
Educationally, the greatest challenge in Seattle still involves educators acting on a common belief, with guiding principles, that students of color, foster/homeless youth, and traumatized youth (and other failing students) can achieve at higher academic levels. The origins of this problem were often confined to non-conventional programs or improvised public schools. Left alone, they addressed disproportionality issues around discipline and achievement in isolation and without systemic support. However, this localized issue mushroomed and spread to every urban district over the course of thirty years. Today African American, Native American, and Latino are still the proxy for what ails educators in Seattle, throughout the Northwest region, and nationally.
Consequently, sweeping decisions to create accountability with the use of high stake tests mandated that public educators embark on a mission to educate all children unreservedly. Using illusionary methods, educational leaders postured to change policies, realigned resources, and fashioned solutions to achieve this goal. Unfortunately, an insignificant number of schools are reporting gains. Most of our school leaders struggle in their process to create a paradigm shift for the teaching and learning process. Our inability to educate all students dramatizes the lack of foresight to focus on the cultural and diversity factors that have changed the faces and values of children in public classrooms.
What are some of the top challenges for educators (at any level) in the Seattle area?
The population trends over the last decade and the corresponding number of school dropouts revealed the need for school reform. Nationally, high school graduation rates are low for all students, with only an estimated 68 percent of those who enter ninth grade graduating with a regular diploma in twelfth grade. Alarmed about the results, local and state legislators focused on the outcome rather than the process of engagement, a term for rallying communities and educators around collaborative and purposeful teaching. Ron Edmonds, the founder of the Effective Schools Movement, stated, “we can, whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us. We already know more than we need to do that. Whether or not we do it must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we haven’t so far.” While in the Seattle School District, I pushed this belief for every child, most often on deaf ears and consequently Seattle School District, along with other Districts continue to reform, reform and reform…
To a large degree, this work should be simple; our children have an innate drive to thrive socially and academically. They have a strong will to perseverance when learning is meaningful and instruction leads to discoveries. Profoundly, this strategy recognizes their love to engage in new rituals and customs, particularly when the experience is connected to as least one caring adult. They welcome responsibility, chiefly when the expectations are high. Our children reflect the works of Dr. Howard Gardner who argues that there are seven areas of intelligences in which children seek educational acknowledgement, not one.
To the best of your knowledge, what are some goals for the future of education in the Seattle area?
Strategically, school districts need a vision and mission that incorporates the research of proven practices, while authentically engaging the community as a full-fledged partner, even when addressing tough issues associated with race, inequities, and curriculum practices. Thus, we need to ponder and embed answers in the following questions as a way of providing credence to our future work.
From district to district, there is a lack of cultural competency among most educators and administrators. Consequently, there are too many educators who fear children of color and their parents. Thus, learning needs are met with low expectations. Also, racism permeates policies that perpetuate segregation in public schools. For example, gifted or advancement programs are set-aside for white students. And when these programs are placed in schools with large numbers of Black students, you can observe the theory of internalized oppression. It becomes common for students to believe that acting smart is acting white. This implies that schools must become conscious of its learning culture.
Effective schools, where gains are awe-inspiring, have a common focus. Their attributes are tied to opportunities for learning in variety of modalities and the educational process is flexible. In these schools, there are principled-centered leaders, from the administrator to the custodians. Teachers know the grandmothers, fathers, mothers and extended family members. Everyone understands the mission and accepts his/her role to perform specific functions to achieve a set of publicly announced goals. An organization that is highly functional has systems that monitor and evaluate student performance and it is frequent and continuous.
Every district must provide professional development programs that include multicultural education, and gender and ethnic bias awareness. This means starting programs in a timely manner. Too often, teachers are required to perform at a highly qualified level when they are still in the beginning stage of learning. Consequently, training should be continuous, with study groups focusing on the unique culture of their students, targeting characteristics and learning styles. If the learning process enlists student and community voices, a worldview would help children reach beyond the standards articulated by government and local districts.
A well-respected staff member (viewed positively by staff and community) should be identified to serve as a liaison. Their primary role involves recruiting and developing leaders within the community to carry out plans for educational improvement. The actions for supporting schools would occur in community-based centers where mentors and caring adults meet to discuss strategies, meet with teachers, and students. Potentially, these venues produce highly trained volunteers to authentically perform significant functions in their community schools, with goals of supporting students socially and academically.
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I'm April Bailey, a freelance writer and editor for hire who has been writing about various topics for many years. Most of my early print work was destroyed in a major house fire. Luckily, I was able to pull some copies from an old PC and have posted them here. Other items on this blog reflect my current articles and blog posts written for online publications and copied here so I never lose my work again!