Skip To ContentSkip To Content
    Aki Kurose: Educator and Social Justice Advocate
    Posted on 05/26/2021
    Aki Kurose poses for a photo while holding a suitcase

    Aki Kurose: Educator and Social Justice Advocate

    In 1999, Seattle Public Schools renamed Casper W. Sharples Junior High to Aki Kurose Middle School. The renaming honored social justice advocate and former SPS teacher Aki Kurose, born Akiko Kato, for her activism for peace and social justice and for her work to transform public school systems to better support the needs of all students.

    Twenty-two years later, Kurose’s legacy continues to support welcoming learning environments for students. Her son, Seattle Colleges and Seattle University Professor Paul Kurose, shared that as a former SPS teacher himself, he always remembered what his mother said of students who were sent to the hallway during class.

    “Her legacy is that she’s someone who cared about all kids,” Paul said. “She would see young children sitting in the hall to be disciplined and she always said that doesn’t teach them anything except that people don’t care about them, so she would take them into her classroom.”

    Aki Kurose believed that students belonged in classrooms to learn curriculum and care from their educators. Throughout her career, Kurose fought to create welcoming, loving spaces for students.

    One of her many accomplishments was helping to bring Head Start programs to Seattle schools, a national program providing early childhood education for low-income children and families.

    “Aki Kurose’s legacy lives on at Seattle Public Schools Head Start as the program prioritizes and continues to serve preschool students furthest from educational justice,” SPS Director of Early Learning Heather Brown said.

    However, Kurose’s daily example within school buildings, constantly modeling her beliefs through her actions and her teaching, has equally endured. Aki Kurose Middle School’s mascot, the peace crane, was created in honor of her teachings to students on peaceful conflict resolution.

    “The thing that she always said is that kids love to learn. I mean, that’s their nature is loving to learn,” Paul shared of his mother’s teaching. “Too much of what happens is that we kill that love of learning in so many of our kids. So, we need to sustain and grow their love of learning.”

    Aki Kurose was a fierce education and racial equity advocate, informed by her families’ incarceration in the Minidoka camp in Idaho. She was active in the movement against housing discrimination and redlining in Seattle. Her son Paul shared stories of his mother’s life from their family home, a home that realtors would not initially sell to his parents in 1961.

    Throughout her life, she worked to establish an understanding about human rights issues and our role both as stewards of this planet and caretakers of our children. Aki Kurose has inspired future generations of educators in SPS, including her own family. Her grandson is now following in Aki and Paul’s footsteps in studying to become a high school mathematics teacher.

    SPS strives to follow the great example of district leaders like Aki Kurose to create environments where students find joy in learning. We can't wait to welcome to students back to their future this fall.