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    Dionne Foster

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    Letter of Interest

    A photo of Dionne FosterDear School Board Directors, Students, Families, Educators and Neighbors

    Thank you for accepting my letter of interest to serve the students, families, educators and communities of District 7 as Seattle Public Schools Board Director. My interest in serving in this capacity results from a combination of my lived and professional experiences. I’m a bridge builder, policy professional and compassionate collaborator — attributes that make me an ideal fit for this opportunity.

    As a young person I was in and out of both honors programs, school suspension and disciplinary actions. I couldn’t have imagined then that I’d hold a Master’s Degree from the University of Washington and have amassed the credentials and ability to help our schools work better today for kids who are like me.

    Today, I’m a proud Rainier Beach resident and parent of a child in Seattle Public Schools. I’m seeking this appointment because I believe our schools must continue to improve outcomes for students of color. Professionally, I have experience moving equitable policies and practices through large institutions from the time I spent working for the City of Seattle as a Policy Advisor in the Office of Policy & Innovation (OPI) and Senior Policy Advisor at Seattle Public Utilities.

    As an advisor, I learned not only how to leverage technical information and research for impact, but to collaborate with career staff and other expert stakeholders and pull together different communities with different perspectives to solve complex problems.

    In OPI, I also regularly collaborated with budget analysts to review supplemental and annual departmental budgets from both capital and general fund departments. The policy changes I have led, including researching, contributing to and drafting Mayoral Executive Orders on climate change, evaluating complex multi-million dollar service programs, advising on capital projects and strategic plans, have required critical analysis, strong relationship and change management skills - all tools I hope to bring in service of students and families in District 7 and across Seattle Public Schools.

    In my current role as a Program Officer, at Seattle Foundation I focus on eliminating inequity through funding social and racial justice organizations to change policy in our region. For the work we do to make Seattle a stronger more equitable community, Seattle Foundation was named Nonprofit of the Year by Seattle Business Magazine in 2018.

    I believe deep collaboration and co-learning are just as critical to results as good research and policy. I will prioritize listening, building relationships, and working collaboratively with parents, teachers and students to tackle the challenges in District 7 and across the school district. This includes centering the voices of communities furthest away from educational justice and equity, particularly Black and Indigenous, queer and trans, students, educators and communities. With this comes a commitment to not only focus on what needs to be fixed, but to learn what innovations are showing promise and to uplift and support those initiatives. I look forward to engaging more deeply with the Board, and most of all community through the appointment process.

    Sincerely,
    Dionne Foster

    Resume or Related Experience

    PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE

    Seattle Foundation Program Officer, August 2018 - present

    • Manage Communities of Opportunity Systems and Policy change grants & grantee relationships; totaling over $2.5M in investments in community based organizations focused on racial equity.
    • Co-lead Vibrant Democracy Initiative Engagement Pipeline; $1.2M investment in leadership development in underrepresented communities.

    City of Seattle, July 2016 - August 2018
    Seattle Public Utilities, Corporate Policy & Government Relations, Senior Policy Advisor, September 2017 - August 2018

    • Led internal review of SPU low-income customer service programs and processes; collaborated with staff to update SPU policies.
    • Launched partnership with the Center for Community Investment Connect Capital Initiative - multidisciplinary initiative in South Park for equitable delivery of capital infrastructure projects. Office of Policy & Innovation Policy Advisor, July 2016 -- August 2017
    • Advised Policy Director, Mayor and Deputy Mayors on policy and program proposals in the Duwamish Valley, climate and environmental policies, public safety and youth employment.
    • Developed policy and budget recommendations in collaboration with key internal and external stakeholders.
    • Managed and maintained relationships with stakeholders, including government, nonprofit and private sector leaders.

    Puget Sound Sage Research & Policy Analyst, June 2015 - July 2016

    • Led research and policy analysis for Sage’s climate and environmental justice program, continuing the partnership work started at Got Green.
    • Represented Sage in community coalitions and government task forces including Front & Centered, Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy and City of Seattle Equity and Environment Initiative Community Partner Steering Committee.
    • Built relationships with community members and community-based organizations to develop grassroots recommendations and influence public policy.

    Got Green Public Policy & Outreach Fellow, Sept 2014 - June 2015

    • Developed and executed a strategic action plan for climate justice research project resulting in the successful launch of Climate Justice Program and significant earned media coverage.
    • Established the Climate Justice Steering Committee consisting of 10 low-income people and people of color and co-developed a research agenda and policy recommendations with the committee.

    University of Washington, School of Social Work, Office of the Dean Research Assistant, Sept 2013 - June 2014; Sept 2014 - June 2015

    • Supported the development of cross-departmental education reform connecting students from six graduate health care programs into integrated education sessions. Built support for the program across departments.
    • Analyzed public policy concerning health care delivery and how the Affordable Care Act will impact the pipeline for healthcare professions and developed strategy recommendations for how social work education could adapt accordingly.

    King County Office of the Executive -Performance Strategy and Budget, Seattle WA Performance and Strategy Intern, July 2014 - Sep 2014

    • Researched Equity and Social Justice indicators through interviewing internal and external stakeholders, reviewing reports and equity plans from other jurisdictions.
    • Coauthored Determinants of Equity Report.

    ORIGINAL RESEARCH

    Our People, Our Planet, Our Power March 2016 King County Determinants of Equity Report January 2015

    EDUCATION

    University of Washington, Seattle, WA Master of Social Work in Policy & Administration, 2015

    George Mason University, Fairfax, VA Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, magna cum laude, 2010 Minor, Women’s Studies & Administration of Justice

    Candidate Foster Questionnaire Responses

    On July 16, candidates were asked to provide responses to five School Board-selected questions and asked to select three questions submitted by community members in a recent survey. Read the submitted questions from the community.

     

    Board-selected questions and candidate responses:

    1. What is your connection to the Southeast Seattle District VII community, schools, families, and students? How do you foresee growing or expanding on those connections and relationships in your role as a school board director?

    Southeast Seattle is my home. I’ve lived in Rainier Beach for 6 of the last 8 years. As a parent of an elementary school student, I’m committed to the community and our schools for the long haul.

    Before our family started in Seattle Public Schools, my son attended preschool at El Centro de la Raza, where we built relationships and built community with families and students from across Southeast Seattle and the rest of the city. Through our family experiences with early learning we’ve built deep relationships with families and educators in Seattle. And it’s through these relationships and personal experience where I’ve heard directly from families about their concerns and vision for our schools.

    My depth of relationship in the community also comes from my time as an organizer at Got Green, a local southeast Seattle based environmental justice organization. As a community organizer at Got Green I organized and led a project to engage neighbors, families and residents in Southeast Seattle. Collectively we engaged over 175 neighbors in South Seattle in order to form the basis of our climate justice advocacy work that ultimately led to the creation of an environmental justice steering committee at the City of Seattle that advises on equitable environmental and climate policy.

    As a candidate I’ve prioritized reaching out to families and educators in Southeast Seattle to expand my understanding of community concerns. I’ve had the opportunity to connect with folks from a third of the schools in District 7 to listen to their experiences as students, families, and educators and hear their concerns and priorities for the District. I have also met with representatives of community-based organizations and other trusted leaders. I will continue reaching out as the appointment process continues and as a Director if I am appointed to the board. The issues I highlight in the priorities section below are a reflection of what I’ve heard in these listening meetings.

    As a Director, I see my role as elevating and centering the needs of District 7 and making decisions that benefit the 53,000 Seattle Public Schools students and their families:

    • To be a liaison between the community and the District and vice versa. I will be present in the community, through attending events hosted by local youth-led and focused organizations.
    • I will host monthly in-District office hours at transit accessible locations.
    • I will seek to establish relationships with the educators in the District through scheduling introductory meetings with the school principals, and where possible Building Leadership Teams, in District 7.

    2. What is your understanding of the role of school board director? How do you foresee working with your fellow directors, the superintendent, staff, and the public?

    First, I see the role of School Board Director as being responsible for being informed about and able to represent the unique needs of District 7 at the board level. And because each Director is also a District-wide representative, I see the role as also being well-informed about District wide priorities and responsible for effective and equitable decision making across the District.

    The Board of Directors sets the vision and direction for the school District through adopting and shepherding the strategic plan, budget, District policy, and employing the superintendent. As a Director I will use the tools at the disposal of the Board; the ability to convene work groups, pass policy and make budget decisions to shepherd positive outcomes for the District. As a Director, I will collaborate with professional staff at JSCEE to develop the research, accounting and information necessary to support decision making. Because the responsibility for managing staff and day to day operations is the responsibility of the superintendent, I will work to establish an honest and transparent relationship with the superintendent.

    I look forward to the opportunity to work collaboratively with fellow Directors, as experts on their Districts, to advance the goals in the strategic plan. The work we need to do for our children is tremendous, and it can’t be done alone. As a Director I will work to understand how the unique needs of my District align with those in the other Districts and build support for advancing policies forward. As in any body, there will be times where we disagree on the actions and methods to achieve our goals. I will keep the students, families and educators of District 7 in the center, and make decisions driven by data and community.

    We need deep, proactive community engagement for our system to work well. If appointed to this position, I would take on both listening to the members of the public who are already active voices in the school District and proactively seeking out those that aren’t.

    3. How do you think Seattle Public Schools is doing? Do you support the district’s recently adopted strategic plan — why or why not? What does focusing on students that are the furthest from educational justice mean to you? Read the district's strategic plan.

    Seattle Public Schools is on the right track with the vision, framework and outcomes outlined in the strategic plan. I believe in the principles of targeted universalism; if we want all students to achieve, then black students must achieve. The District-wide focus on African-American boys is the right strategy to move Seattle Public Schools forward. I also believe the process the Superintendent and Board led to develop the plan, from the listening tour and community meetings to having a racially and geographically diverse advisory group contributed to the overall strength of the plan. However, the strategic plan doesn’t outline strategies the District will deploy in order to meet the identified work. I see the future work of the school board to continue listening to community and adopting policies and budget priorities that ensure the District meets these goals.

    I support the SPS Strategic Plan, and there is much work to do to bring our outcomes into alignment with the vision in the Strategic Plan. Our current reality is that inequities begin showing up early and persist through a student’s educational journey. Districtwide only 32% of African-American kids are reading at grade level by 3rd grade and we know that if a student hasn’t learned to read, they will be challenged to read to learn as they progress through elementary and middle school. Our District has the largest population of students learning English across the state, bringing 108 different languages to our schools, yet our schools are only graduating 55% of English Language Learners on time. We have work to do as a community to make sure all of our students achieve educational justice.

    Focusing on those furthest from educational justice means centering students who have been underserved by the District in decision making, and prioritizing resource allocation to serve those students, families and communities. It means both having both a process and outcomes that are equitable and designing school District budget, operations, policies and practices to support the students who Seattle Public Schools has historically and currently failed to support. Both the data and knowledge in the community show that delivering the same services for everyone is not a workable strategy to achieve equitable outcomes.

    4. How does racism affect education in Seattle? What are your ideas for implementing School Board Policy No. 0030, Ensuring Educational and Racial Equity? Read Policy 0030.

    Our schools are in many ways a microcosm of the racism that permeates our culture. Institutional racism in lending practices and racially restricted covenants determined who was able to live where in our city, creating the racial and income segregation we see in our schools today. Institutional racism also contributes to the outcomes we see in our schools today: Students of color aren’t identified as highly capable or advanced learners at an equitable rate to their peers. Students of color receive exclusionary discipline more severe and more frequent than their white peers. Unwelcoming school environments contribute to student absenteeism. Racism intersects with employment and lack of housing stability contributing to the high number of homeless students of color in the region. The impacts are truly innumerable.

    This isn’t about a failure of our kids, it is a failure of our methods, policies and systems. In previous roles, I’ve developed and researched policy solutions that embed racial equity in youth employment programs, carbon pricing, and social service programs. My experience leading policy development with a racial equity lens makes me uniquely suited to lead the District on the development of solutions to address the racism embedded in our schools.

    The areas of focus I outline below are all strategies to further policy 0030.

    5. What do you want to focus on as a school board director and why? How do you foresee doing that work within the constraints of the role (law, existing policy, budget, staff, and public expectations)?

    Supporting the hiring and retention of qualified teachers of color
    While more than half of students in Seattle Public Schools are students of color, only 19% of teachers are teachers of color, this disparity is stark and the impact is far reaching. Shared racial identity between students and educators has been shown to improve high school completion rates, raise test scores, and decrease discipline incidences. Research shows that black elementary students with at least one black teacher were more likely to graduate from high school and enroll in college, yet only 4.5% of Seattle Public School teachers are black compared to 15% of students. To support the achievement of all students, I will prioritize supporting efforts that increase the recruitment and retention of educators of color in the District. I will also support recruitment and retention of bilingual educators to allow for the expansion of dual language programs and increased representation for English language learning students.

    Addressing disproportionate discipline
    Students of color, students receiving special education services and students learning English are being disciplined at a higher rate and with more severity than their peers. I support restorative justice training as an alternative to exclusionary discipline as well as educators have the training and support necessary to support students, including anti-bias training.

    Ethnic Studies, Inclusive Curriculum & Schools
    I will prioritize fully incorporating ethnic studies into core curriculum in Seattle Public Schools. I believe SPS also needs to understand how LGBTQ students are experiencing their school environments and will support efforts to create healthy environments for queer and questioning youth as well as improving representation for queer and trans students in curriculum.

    Relationship Building & Collaboration
    I will work to make sure board decisions are informed by the community - and that community input reflects the true diversity of our neighborhoods. I will both be present where community members are already organizing and host in District office hours at transit-accessible locations.

    Whole Student, Whole Community Planning
    Our city is rapidly changing and the impact of these changes can be seen in the shifting demographics of our neighborhoods and our schools. As a Director I will support equitable decision making in school boundary changes. Roughly 75% of students who eat school lunch are enrolled in receive free and reduced lunch. Low-income students are more likely to experience food insecurity, making it even more important for school meals to be nutritious. If appointed, I will support efforts to ensure students have access to high quality, free, culturally relevant foods in school.

    Advancing racial equity in advanced learning and highly capable cohort programs
    It is critically important that all students, including students of color, both those who demonstrate high cognitive ability and high achievement, are identified by the District for their unique abilities and are educated in a supportive environment where they can thrive.

    In terms of restrictions, Seattle Public Schools has both a duty to educate our students, and to deliver a balanced budget every year as required by law. However, the District authority to raise funds is limited and relies on regressive forms of taxation. State policy determines funding allocations and formulas for the District in many areas and in some cases sets the bar on data collection. As a Director, I will continue to advocate for adequate and equitable funding for Seattle at the state level. I will also collaborate with district legal staff to review policy, budget and legal implications of proposed changes at the Board level to ensure they are in compliance with state and federal law.

     

    Community questions and candidate responses:

    How will you engage our community, with all our different home languages, to ensure that our needs and issues are represented on the Board? What steps do you plan to take to keep your actions and interests transparent and available for residents of District 7 to give input if you were to be elected as a Board Director? How has your past experience prepares you to be an advocate for academic, social and financial equality for SE Seattle schools and families?

    The diversity in Southeast is one of the things that makes us strong. I will work to establish trusted relationships with key leaders in the community who can keep me informed of community priorities, ensuring that school board priorities are informed from the ground up. I will also share information about board and SPS work with these partners so that information can be disseminated out into the community. I will be present in the community at key cultural and community events, including those that aren’t centered on education. To ensure my decisions are community led and racially equitable I will establish a ‘Kitchen Cabinet’ to meet regularly, the Kitchen Cabinet will ensure that there is dedicated space for me to meet with community, but also for communities to connect with each other and share space. I see this last component as critical to ensuring that both the cultural, linguistic, and geographic diversity in our community are well represented.

    I come to this work from a background in environmental, racial and economic justice organizing, advocacy, research and policy work. The policy changes I have lead, including researching and drafting Mayoral Executive Orders on climate change, evaluating complex multi-million dollar service programs and advocating for equitable carbon pricing, have required critical analysis, strong relationship skills, and skilled change management. I’m a skilled collaborator and feel comfortable moving between multiple issues areas while honoring the expertise of the people who do deep work in any particular space. I’m also negotiator who can push various audiences, disagree with tact and maintain relationships through differences both in internal change management and external partnerships. I look forward to bringing these skills to bear for the benefit of student and families in Seattle Public Schools.

    By what means and with what expediency will you work to dramatically reduce the number of instances and number of days of punitive school exclusions in District VII schools, especially for African-American students, other students of color, and students with disabilities?

    If appointed to the board, this will be at top priority for me. I will seek partnership with the members of the African American Male Advisory Committee, so that the work I develop is not independent and held solely by the board, but is held in partnership with the community. Strategies I would investigate if appointed to the board include:

    • Ensuring schools have appropriate staffing and space in order to minimize exclusionary discipline practices
    • Supporting alternatives to suspension including restorative justice and healing circles
    • Ensuring teachers have adequate support and training to support student success
    • Monitoring data on exclusionary discipline and school environment to monitor for impacts when new policy and practices are implemented

    How will you support families and children who are being impacted by gentrification, displacement, and homelessness? Do you support free public transit for all youth in King County?

    Students experiencing disruption in their lives need schools to be a safe and welcoming environment, I will work to address the lack of resources coming from the state for counselors. To ensure all students who need support receive it, I will support expanded screening to improve identification of students experiencing homelessness. If appointed I will also be a voice for addressing the root causes of these challenges through developing partnerships with housing providers, City of Seattle and King County. I will bring the deep relationships I have in these institutions to foster collaboration with the school District.

    I fully support free public transit for youth in King County. And I believe it is important to center and remember the youth leadership from Rainier Beach High School that surfaced transit equity for students and led to the expansion of youth ORCA passes. By continuing to listen to youth about the problems they are directly impacted by, we can develop the right solutions to address the complex challenges the District faces.