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    Opportunity and Hope for the New Year Ahead
    Posted on 12/27/2016
    Two students at John Hay Elementary school write stories

    Opportunity and Hope for the New Year Ahead

    Many celebrate the new year with revelry and festive parties. Our return to school on January 3 may not have as much celebration, but it does begin with opportunity and hope.

    The winter season marks a sweet spot in the the school year.

    Students and teachers know each other better. We have a better understanding of where each student excels and where they need more support. And we have had extended time together in school to make steady progress. As you’ll see in the examples described below, educators in every school are using strategies promoting positive beliefs and positive relationships to support opportunity and hope for each and every one of our 53,000 students.

    Unfortunately, Seattle Public Schools faces incredible budget challenges in the months ahead. Despite the good efforts of our local legislators, the state has been unable to fulfill their constitutional obligations. The McCleary ruling by the State Supreme Court (in 2010 and again in 2012) held the state responsible for funding basic education.

    To date, the state has failed to meet that obligation. This means that three out of every 10 educators are now supported by local taxes. And, the legislature has now reduced local school funding for the next school year, which equates to approximately $30 million in Seattle.

    Without early action by the legislature in this next session, Seattle Public Schools will have to reduce teaching, administrative, and other staff in 2017-18.

    This is a manufactured crisis based on years of failing to follow the rule of law and uphold our state constitution and occurring in a time of growing state budgets and increasing teacher shortages.

    However, regardless of the financial forecast, we remain steadfast in our commitment to educational equity. Eliminating opportunity gaps and ensuring educational excellence for each and every student is the issue of our time.

    On my bookshelf right now are several books about optimism and hope in the midst of challenging obstacles, including "Grit" by Angela Duckworth, "How Children Learn" by Paul Tough, "Little Book of Talent" by Daniel Coyle, and "What Do You Do with a Problem?" by Kobi Yamada. Read more about these books.

    Often attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of my favorite quotes is "What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us."

    As we enter this season of hope and opportunity, as well as challenge, our focus remains on unconditionally believing in our children and the importance of instilling positive beliefs, resilience, and hope.

    I wish you all peace, happiness, and hope throughout the new year.

    Warm regards,

    Dr. Larry Nyland

    Excellence and Equity Starts with Positive Beliefs

    Students succeed when teachers have a growth mindset, the idea that we can each excel and get smarter when we work hard and use deliberate practice to improve.

    Warm, authentic relationships between adults and students; culturally-relevant teaching focused on student strengths; and partnerships with families and communities all set the stage for student success. The foundation is built by adults who hold positive beliefs about the potential for learning and the growth of every child. These adults plant hope and optimism in children's lives.

    We have a number of schools showing rapid academic improvement for students who have historically been underserved. One of the significant factors that we have observed at these schools is that the students report feeling confident there is an adult at their school who cares about them—an adult who encourages them and holds high expectations for their work.

    The Seattle Public Schools Board and staff have demonstrated their belief in the growth potential of our students by publicly committing to eliminating opportunity gaps and improving academic outcomes for all Seattle students.

    We continue to make overall academic progress. In the 2015-16 school year, Seattle Public Schools (SPS) was recognized again as a leader among our state and national peer school districts.

    Eleven SPS schools, including nine repeat recipients, were recognized as Schools of Distinction this year. These are schools that have shown significant progress in ensuring that all students have the support they need to succeed academically including positive school climates where they feel known and valued. Read more about the 2016 School of Distinction Award Recipients.

    Taking Action to Address Opportunity Gaps

    As we enter 2017, all of our schools have created goals to help their community eliminate gaps and accelerate learning for all students. Twenty schools have developed robust Racial Equity Teams and ten additional schools will launch teams this year. Racial Equity Teams support school-led efforts to advance racial equity.

    More than 55 schools have opted into using the SPS student climate survey to measure their students' perception of school safety, the learning environment, and their sense of belonging. The student climate survey is administered multiple times a year to monitor progress. In addition, since September 2015, we have had a moratorium on non-violent suspension in every one of our 60 elementary schools. Read more about the moratorium on non-violent suspensions.

    A more equitable and just educational system, where all community members feel safe and included, starts with developing cultural sensitivity and competence. We began this year with district-wide training on positive educator-student relationships for our 4,000 school staff. This was a collaborative effort between our district leaders, the Seattle Education Association and the Principals’ Association of Seattle Schools. 

    In addition, our Behavioral Health Department has given training on trauma-informed practices to more than 2,000 educators. The training, which focuses on the connection between whole child development and positive educational outcomes, has been well received by educators. These workshops help educators support students who face challenging personal situations. By fostering students’ resiliency, our educators are supporting their recovery from stress, traumatic experiences, and life crises and helping to set the foundation for success.

    At the core of the district’s work to eliminate opportunity gaps are individuals who champion the movement toward educational equity through their individual work.

    Teacher Mike Popelka sits with his students.Roxhill Elementary School teacher, Mike Popelka will travel to The Netherlands on a Fulbright Grant in 2017. He is studying the Dutch educational system—specifically how the system supports minority and immigrant students. When he returns to Seattle, he plans to translate his study into educational equity practice both at Roxhill and share across the district. Popelka’s research and resulting practices will help all SPS educators build positive beliefs and learning opportunities for our students. Read more about Popelka’s Fulbright Award.

    Equity is an Investment in our Future

    Eliminating opportunity gaps and a commitment to equity is an investment in our community. It is an investment to help our young learners grow into successful individuals fully prepared to enrich our communities. Ensuring equity and a bright future for every student requires an investment in our educators, in student resources, and partnerships with families and communities.

    This crucial investment in our future is facing unparalleled risk because of the Washington State Legislature’s failure to adequately address public education funding. Seattle Public Schools, like every school district in Washington is facing a significant budget shortfall next school year. Unless the Legislature takes appropriate action to address school funding, the district has a projected deficit of approximately $74 million for the 2017-18 school year. Read more about the 2017-18 Potential Budget Deficit. Consider joining us at the January 3 meeting at Franklin High School to learn more (read more about this event).

    Regardless of the financial forecast, we will continue our work toward educational equity. Eliminating opportunity gaps and ensuring educational excellence for each and every student is the issue of our time. In our schools and across our district, we are leading by example in the movement toward equity and social justice for all children.