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    Candidate Emijah Smith

    The Seattle School Board selected Emijah Smith as one of the three finalist candidates for the District VII School Board Director position on August 21.

    Please note: because we are committed to publishing a website that is accessible to all our readers including those who need ADA accommodations and language translations, we have not published PDF documents such as resumes the candidates may have submitted during the application process or links to non-Seattle Public Schools' PDF documents submitted with their questionnaire responses.

    Letter of Interest

    A photo of Emijah SmithDear Seattle Public Schools Board of Directors,

    It would be an honor to follow the legacy in leadership of Seattle Public Schools (SPS) District VII Director Betty Patu. I appreciate her commitment to the well-being of all students across the district, particularly those at my children’s schools in South Seattle. Although being a school board director for SPS has been an interest of mine shortly after the completion of my master’s degree in public administration at the University of Washington where I focused on education policy and the academic inequities within SPS, I knew Director Patu would first need to retire her District VII seat. Now is the time to continue building my own legacy in leadership similar to current and past school board directors who have committed their time, talents, energy, and expertise for the best interest of SPS students, families, and communities.

    I am the product of Seattle Public Schools. Education policy advocacy and criminal justice reform have been passions of mine ever since my high school career. I was determined to begin my education legacy by being the first person in my family to attain a college degree. Along the way, I would gain the knowledge and skills to improve the educational outcomes of students, especially those furthest from opportunity, including African American students.

    I have always been an engaged parent at my children’s school, whether it be their classroom, site council, building leadership team, racial equity team, PTSA, etc. As an officer for the Seattle Council Parent Teacher Student Association, I have had the opportunity to work directly with current and past SPS superintendents and cabinet members. I have more than five years working with SPS district policymakers and seeing how SPS district policy help and/or harm students at the school level. I have experience contributing my leadership and expertise on SPS advisory boards and committees, such as SPS Strategic Plan Steering Committee for 2019-2024, African American Males Scholar Advisory Committee, SPS School and Family Partnership Advisory Committee, and more.

    I am encouraged by District VII members and families across SPS to apply. My relationships with diverse communities across SPS and within District VII have enriched my understanding of the variety and complexity of issues facing our school communities, such as identity safety, welcoming school environments, ethnic studies, special education, ELL and world language, need for disaggregate data based on race, over-discipline and expulsions of students of color, academic disparities, and more. I am aware of equitable challenges experienced across the board, including families with advanced learning students. I believe I have the leadership ability to engage and work in solidarity with our diverse populations.

    Along with meeting the applicant requirements, I believe my experience, expertise, and call from community qualify me as a great candidate for the SPS District VII Director.

    Thank you

    Resume or Related Experience

    OBJECTIVE: Contribute my leadership expertise towards the well-being of Seattle Public Schools as the Board of Director for District 7.

    EDUCATION: Master of Public Administration, University of Washington

    PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE

    Community Engagement Manager, Children’s Alliance, Seattle, WA February 2009 - Present

    • Public policy advocacy and analysis with a lens on social justice and race equity.
    • Collaborate with policy staff to identify and develop leadership strategies that advance Children’s Alliance organization and policy goals.
    • Develop and utilize strategies to engage, educate, recruit, and retain strong relationships with community members and partner organizations in leadership skills and grassroots advocacy impacting children and families in Washington State.
    • Project management and implementation of key organizational events and trainings - Have a Heart for Kids Day, Leadership in Advocacy Camp, and Annual Member Meeting.
    • Supervise and support interns and volunteers.

    Project Manager, Seattle Children’s Hospital, Seattle, WA September 2006 - May 2008

    • Project management for the Northwest Sickle Cell Collaborative consisting of program planning, implementation, and sustainability strategies of new chronic disease initiative in WA State.
    • Program monitoring, reporting, and budget/resource allocation.
    • Collaborate with health professionals to prioritize and successfully manage the organizational goals and management process.
    • Engage families and community impacted by sickle cell disease to influence work product and successful outcomes.
    • Maintains ethics of care.
    • Plan and coordinate community-based events, including the first Annual Walk for Sickle Cell Disease.

    MLK VISTA Program Supervisor, Solid Ground, Seattle, WA April 2004 - September 2006

    • Supervision and performance support of 35 full-time stipend VISTA volunteers and served as primary liaison between program, MLK Corporation for National and Community Service, and local funders.
    • Provide oversight, technical assistance and guidance to VISTA projects.
    • Recruit CBOs with capacity for cost-sharing VISTAs; collaborate with organizations to develop project goals and objectives in outcome-based work plans.
    • Preparing and monitoring the budget for the MLK VISTA program, and helping to ensure the successful completion of contract requirements for the program; participating in fundraising efforts.

    RELEVANT EXPERIENCE

    Community Member, June 2019 - August 2020
    Seattle Public Schools P-3 Early Literacy Community Convening

    Committee Member, October 2018 - February 2019
    Seattle Public School 2019-2024 Strategic Plan Steering Committee

    Committee Member, July 2016 - Present
    Seattle Public Schools African American Male Scholar Advisory Committee

    Committee Member, September 2012 - June 2016
    Seattle Public Schools School and Family Partnership Advisory Committee to the Superintendent

    Convener, September 2012 - Present
    African American Family Gatherings - Authentic community engagement addressing well-being of families with African American children

    Co-Vice President, July 2017 - June 2019
    Seattle Council Parent Teacher Student Association service for two terms

    Advisory Member, May 2017 - Present
    City of Seattle Our Best Youth Initiative Advisory

    Planning Team Member, June 2016 - Present
    Cultivating the Genius of Black Children - Focuses on the best pedagogy, practices and strategies for teaching Black children at home and in school.

    Advisor, November 2015 - Present
    South King County Discipline Coalition - Community advocacy and engagement to eliminate the school to prison pipeline

    Candidate Smith 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?

    As a native Seattleite from the Central District, I grew up enjoying South Seattle’s diverse richness. I attended South Shore Middle School and Garfield High School as an advanced-learning student. Now I am a parent of children who currently attend SPS District VII schools and we have resided in South Seattle for more than 10 years. My children are enrolled in many local community programs in District 7.

    I deeply value family engagement and school partnerships. As a parent, I have always been engaged at my children’s school, in their classrooms as well as through service on the site council, building leadership team, racial equity team and PTSA. In addition, I have taken leadership in efforts to expand family engagement in my children’s school and across the district. My approach is to be child and family-centered, relational, accountable, thoughtful, action-oriented and collaborative. I will bring this approach into my work expanding and deepening relationships across District 7.

    Over the years I have organized multiple events to respond to the needs of students, families and the school community at my sons’ school including:

    • A diverse 6th grade student panel to support 5th grade middle school transition, which provided leadership and service opportunities to students,
    • A breakout session for parents to learn from middle school parents in preparation for their student’s transition,
    • African American Family Involvement Day,
    • Black History Month,
    • Juneteenth recognition, and more.

    My leadership includes cultivating healthy relationships between Dearborn Park International School and Black families, including the establishment of the Black Family Planning Team. My most exciting accomplishment is instituting the African American Family Night at my son’s elementary school for the past seven years, which welcomes families into the school and provides an overview of school resources to support student success. As part of this effort the school incorporated the Black National Flag into the collage of many national flags at this international school, as a way of recognizing the unique cultural assets and contributions of African American students. In the role as SPS District VII Board Director, I would expand these same opportunities where needed across Seattle Public Schools.

    As the convener for district-wide African American Family Gatherings, I connect families with African American children in Greater Seattle, particularly those in Central and South Seattle, with district leaders and education tools to support effective navigation of schools, districts, and other institutions.

    If appointed I will grow and expand my relationships with community, family, schools and students in District 7 by:

    Continuing to seek new and deeper relationships with local businesses, community-based organizations families and school leaders.

    • Offering more than one monthly opportunity to engage with community.
    • Welcoming invitations by community to join a community meeting or event to build healthy relationships with diverse Southeast Seattle community.
    • Utilizing interpretation services to support communication between myself and non-English speaking families.
    • Regularly sharing information in multiple formats and settings to increase transparency and accountability to community.
    • Implement a District 7 School Board Advisory Board to recognize the various perspectives of community.

    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?

    The role of the school board and school directors is defined in Seattle Public Schools Policy 1005. Standards for board performance are established by the WA State School Directors Association. In addition to upholding these responsibilities fully with the highest ethical standards, some of my personal benchmarks as a SPS District VII Board Director include:

    • Working as an effective and collaborative team member with fellow Board Directors and staff.
    • In alignment with Racial Equity Policy 0030, ensuring that the district employs and supports quality teachers, administrators and other staff and provides for their professional development.
    • Providing for learning essentials, rigorous curriculum, technology and high quality facilities.
    • Adopting and monitoring an annual budget that allocates resources based on the district’s vision, goals and priorities set in Seattle Public Schools 2019-2024 Strategic Plan.
    • Committing to continuous improvement in student achievement at each school and throughout the district.
    • Being accountable to community by welcoming student, family, and community input and collaborating with families and community, responding to diverse interests and needs and mobilizing community resources.
    • Demonstrating commitment to racial equity and high standards of achievement for each student.
    • Listening carefully with an open mind, communicate honestly, and maintain confidentiality of appropriate matters.
    • Working in solidarity with our diverse communities on current concerns including:
      • Identity, including LGBTQ identities, safety and creating welcoming school environments,
      • Ethnic studies,
      • Special education,
      • English Language Learners,
      • Student assignments and school staffing,
      • Discipline and prison pipeline,
      • Advanced-Learning,
      • Truancy and homelessness,
      • Course offerings and graduation,
      • Bullying and civil rights violation,
      • Nutrition, etc.

    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.

    As a committee member on the 2019-2024 Strategic Plan Steering Committee, I helped create the current strategic plan, as well as testified to the current board in support of the plan requesting their vote to adopt the entire plan. I support the plan because it “unapologetically address the needs of students of color who are furthest from educational justice, and work to undo the legacies of racism in our educational system…,” and focuses on African American males. Moreover, the Strategic Plan ensures educational and racial equity as outlined in Seattle Public School Policy 0030:

    • Raise the achievement of all students while narrowing the gaps between the lowest and highest performing students.
    • Eliminate the racial predictability and disproportionality in all aspects of education and its administration.
      • the disproportionate overapplication of discipline to students of color,
      • their over-representation in Special Education,
      • and their under-representation in various Advanced Learning programs.

    My goal is to support implementation of the strategic plan. As a community member who has consistently participated on this specific area of work, I have a healthy sense of urgency to see the strategic plan effectively executed. Our students are depending on its success to ensure their success.

    Overall, Seattle Public Schools has multiple areas of strength, and significant areas where it can and must improve.

    Seattle Public Schools as a district and schools within the district have received awards and recognition for significant accomplishments. Asa Mercer International Middle School in South Seattle has earned a spot on a statewide list that applauds schools for sustaining improvements in reading and math for six years in a row. Other SPS District VII Schools such as Rainier View Elementary School and Aki Kurose Middle School are recognized for their improvements and exceptional leadership.

    Seattle Public Schools leads Washington State in many academic categories and has received national recognition for its impact with vulnerable students. Seattle Public Schools is also a leader in racial equity policy work and other districts look to Seattle Public Schools as a model for addressing inequities and the opportunity gap. Seattle Public Schools leadership has taken key actions including adopting a strategic plan that names African American males as one of the groups furthest from educational justice and adopting the Since Time Immemorial curriculum. All these efforts and more deserve applause.

    As I acknowledge this good work, I must also acknowledge that there are persistent challenges in our district and too many students are not achieving at the levels the student, family, community, and District desire. Seattle Public Schools opportunity gap data from 2014 highlights:

    • African American and Latino students are below standard in math and reading for grades 3 – 8 at rates of 50% for each group.
    • Asian American students show high rates of meeting standard, but it is well known that educational disparities of Southeast Asians and Asian Pacific Islander rates are hidden in those numbers.
    • Data for indigenous students was not apparent in the data.
    • White students at level 4 and 5 schools are not meeting standards at a rate of 30% as well. The district must clarify a strategy for addressing this need.

    Historically, Seattle Public Schools has not provided equitable opportunities for many students from certain racial backgrounds for all or part of their educational journey resulting in a legacy of these groups being furthest from educational justice today. Although I appreciate the current efforts Seattle Public Schools are taking to eliminate and reverse the impacts of historical neglect, Seattle Public Schools has a lot work ahead. I am ready and equipped to do the work alongside our district.

    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.

    Racism is racial prejudice plus power. Racism supports a caste system based on false social construct of racial hierarchy with White at the top and Black at the bottom. Education institutions have normalized this dysfunction of thought and practice of racism to legitimize educational violence and educational injustice resulting in systemic inequities including the disproportionate overapplication of discipline to students of color, over-representation of students of color in special education, under-representation of students of color in various advanced learning programs, and worse.

    Seattle Public Schools Policy No. 0030, Ensuring Educational and Racial Equity focuses on closing the opportunity gap highlighting the belief that it is the right of every student to have an equitable educational experience within the Seattle Public School District. https://www.seattleschools.org/UserFiles/Servers/Server_543/File/District/Departments/School%20Board/Policies/Series%200000/0030.pdf

    My goal is to see Seattle Public Schools be excellent and the first choice for our families across Greater Seattle. Policy No. 0030 is essential to achieving this goal.

    This means differentiating resource allocation, within budgetary limitations, to meet the needs of students who need more supports and opportunities to succeed academically and create system wide changes to ensure our schools are welcoming and serving all kids equitably. It means intentional A student whose history and heritage are appreciated and celebrated will learn better and be more successful than if that student is forced to overcome a cultural barrier.

    According to SPS Board Policy No. 0030, in order to achieve educational equity for students: Seattle Public School is ready to succeed in a racially and culturally diverse local, national, and global community.

    I support the district’s charge to achieve educational equity for our students. The district shall provide:

    • Equitable Access,
    • Racial Equity Analysis,
    • Workforce Equity,
    • Professional Development,
    • Welcoming School Environments,
    • Partnerships,
    • Multiple Pathways to Success,
    • Recognizing Diversity.

    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)?

    As a School Board Director, I will focus on the implementation of Seattle Public Schools 2019-2024 Strategic Plan, particularly the Inclusive and Authentic Engagement priority. I am excited to advance the goal that students furthest from educational justice will have meaningful voice and leadership in school and district initiatives.

    I will focus on promoting identity safety and welcoming school environments, which strengthens students and family attendance and involvement in schools. I will focus on equitable and healthy discipline to prevent school to prison pipeline, security and policing in schools, special education, and nutrition. When I ask students to name something they are proud of surviving at schools, school lunch is a popular response. With the complexity of issues within SPS District VII, I will stay engaged and accountable to pressing community concerns. Being accountable to community means practicing culturally responsive ways to engage so we build trusting relationships and empower the voices of those who can help us meet these needs.

    I foresee working with fellow Board of Directors, Superintendent, staff, and public utilizing the standards set by the Washington State School Directors’ Association: https://www.wssda.org/LeadershipDevelopment/WashingtonSchoolBoardStandards.aspx.

    I will utilize the Washington State 28A Common School Provisions to ensure I am working within the constraints of the law: http://leg.wa.gov/CodeReviser/RCWArchive/Documents/2018/Title%2028A%20RCW.pdf.

    I will work within the guidelines of current Seattle Public Schools policy and procedures: https://www.seattleschools.org/district/school_board/policies.

     

    Community questions and candidate responses:

    What makes you different than the other candidates and best suited to the job? How will you impact the culture of the Seattle School Board?

    I bring to this opportunity a unique combination of personal experience, professional and academic expertise, and skills and knowledge developed over years of in-the-trenches volunteer work at the school and district level to improve the educational experiences of my own children and all children in our community.

    I am a Black mother with Black boys. I have dedicated myself for the past 6+ years to advance racial equity, close the opportunity gap, and strengthen the basis of the current strategic plan. As an officer for the Seattle Council Parent Teacher Student Association, I have had the opportunity to work directly with current and past SPS superintendents and cabinet members and School Board Directors. I have experience contributing my leadership and expertise on SPS advisory boards and committees, such as African American Males Scholar Advisory Committee, SPS School and Family Partnership Advisory Committee, and SPS Strategic Plan Steering Committee for 2019-2024. I was the first person in my family to earn a college degree, and then went on to earn a Masters in Public Administration at the University of Washington.

    I will bring the voice of the those whose voices are all too often silenced or ignored…all those mothers and fathers who are unwelcomed at their child’s school who only get a call when there is a discipline issue. Not only will I be a voice, I will model survival and resilience in a large education institution bringing hope to others to activate their advocacy and stay engaged in partnership with their school and district.

    In my observation these past five years or so, I have witnessed strong SPS Board, superintendents, and top administrative leadership push for racial equity within the constraints of the law, policy, budget, staff, and public expectations. As Board Director, I will utilize the expertise of district leadership among my colleagues and contribute my own expertise, including my unique expertise in understanding anti-blackness as an aspect of racism.

    In my community work I value listening, honesty, open communication and a collaborative, thoughtful approach. I will bring these values into my role as a Director and will contribute to a productive, healthy culture focused on delivering the results our kids and community deserve.

    I applaud all the candidates for stepping up in interest to support SPS District VII students, families, and community. As an engaged South Seattle community member, I know and respect some of other candidates. I am committed to building new relationships and strengthening current relationships throughout this candidate process. I will continue doing the good work to support our kids, families and communities no matter what.

    What was a formative experience in your own early education?

    I have many family members who are considered “gifted.” At the age of seven years old, I was identified by Seattle Public Schools as an advanced-learning student. I guess the district could not accept my 100% score the first test, so they had me take the test a second time, where I missed one question. This experience makes me wonder about the testing bias towards our students of color today.

    As an advanced-learning student living with my father, I travelled from “Upper Rainier Beach” neighborhood to experience a somewhat isolated and segregated learning experience at a Central District elementary school. Most of my learning was in an environment that did not support my self-concept and White elementary students would tell me I am not smart because I was Black. My classes were upstairs, while the general education students were downstairs. It was a strange experience to me.

    I attended South Shore Middle School, which was great because the learning environment had a majority of students who were from similar racial and socioeconomic background. After middle school, I attended Garfield High School for its academic rigor offered to advanced-learning students, but as an advanced learning student, I was back to the isolated and segregated learning environments.

    Learning from those isolated and segregated educational experiences, I have prioritized more culturally diverse learning environments for my children that organically support positive self-concept found in the diversity of SPS District VII schools.

    What do you know about the state of special education in our district?

    Special Education provides services to students with certain disabilities that are specified in state and federal laws. Services are free of charge to the parent. Anybody may refer a student for an evaluation to determine if the student qualifies for services. The referral needs to be in writing and should be directed to the school principal.

    Eligibility for special education services requires that an evaluation be conducted. The result of the evaluation needs to show that the child has a disability as defined in Chapter 392-172 of the Washington Administrative Code and that this disability affects the child's progress and participation in their general education classroom. If the child is a preschooler, the disability would need to cause the child to fall behind in activities that children without a disability are able to do.

    Services that eligible students receive address their individual needs. These services are outlined in an Individual Educational Plan (IEP) that school staff and parents jointly develop. https://www.mccleary.wednet.edu/site/handlers/filedownload.ashx?moduleinstanceid=281&dataid=170&FileName=PS.pdf

    My understanding is the McCleary decision did not adequately address special education funding. Native American students are disproportionately impacted by special education funding cap. The special education funding gap affects districts that have higher percentages of student with disabilities. Washington State law says the state will pay an excess amount for each special education student up to 13.5% enrollment, which mostly affects smaller districts and tribal agencies similar to small districts over the special education 13.5% enrollment cap. In addition, the state budget grossly underfunds paraeducators, who are estimated to provide nearly 60% of direct instruction to special education students in Washington State.

    I have a child with an individual education plan (IEP) for services to support reading and writing due to dyslexia. I had the same experience described in the Seattle Times in mid-July about the lack of and delayed evaluation of students. Having a Black boy, too many years passed before his second grade teacher believed me and recognized the non-traditional learning needs of my son. I am still advocating and searching for affordable evaluation and learning opportunities to support my son’s academic success. I know firsthand the process of IEP meetings. Too many families do not know their student and family rights. Although I asked informed questions, I learn from and seek support from other families with similar situations and organizations that specialize in disabilities.

    There are too many students, including African American boys, referred unnecessarily to special education for behavior issues, when in reality they are bored and not academically challenged in the classroom. As a Board Director, I will advocate for full funding for to meet the needs of special education students as well as resources and strategies to ensure families and students know their rights and how to navigate the special education system.