April 2022 Newsletter: Hitting the Road to Learn
May 3rd, 2022
Leaders in Yakima discuss the assets new teachers bring to students. Photo by Marishka Winters.
What wild spring weather we had recently in Washington state! I’m glad my team and I hit the road to meet some of our grantees and their partners in March, before the snow returned. One of the things I value most in my professional life is the ability to constantly learn and grow. My heart and perspective are both stronger when I can hear from community partners and the teachers, students, and families they serve.
That’s exactly what my team and I set out to do last month, getting on the road to chat with community leaders, students, and educators in Spokane County, Tacoma, and Yakima. While we are continuing conversations with educators and community leaders across the state to inform our new education strategy, I wanted to pause and reflect on what my team heard in these recent discussions (which took place in person for the first time in years!).
In all three regions, leaders and educators stressed the importance of respecting and elevating student voices. At the end of the day, that’s who we show up every day to support. We also heard about capacity limitations when it came to analyzing and fully utilizing data in each region so they could truly do what’s best for students in their education-to-career journeys.
While these three regions shared several similar aspirations, they also had unique community goals. In Spokane County, there was a focus on workforce development and economic recovery. Tacoma emphasized how much of their success is due to the trust and collaboration that exists across community organizations, school districts, and businesses. In Yakima, school leaders are strengthening their ability to support dual-language learners and the mental health of students.
I’m so grateful to everyone I’ve met since joining the foundation. We’re truly better when we’re learning together.
The foundation’s visits to Spokane, Tacoma, and Yakima reinforced something most Washington state residents know to be true: this is a state with a diverse set of regions. Each community faced unique challenges during the pandemic, which is why the foundation made grants to school districts and community foundations to support a local pandemic response. Here are a few specific ways school district partners in Spokane, Tacoma, and Yakima used these grants to ensure they remained student-centered during a time of so much uncertainty.
Spokane: Spokane developed a five-year strategic plan, which their school board adopted in November 2021. In partnership with TNTP, Spokane engaged numerous stakeholders in the design and finalization of this strategic plan. They also shifted their recruitment and hiring practices to increase the diversity of their teaching workforce, and they engaged in work to assess whether their curriculum is culturally relevant.
Tacoma: Tacoma, in partnership with NWEA, engaged numerous stakeholders and outside experts to develop social and emotional learning indicators as well as month-by-month time posts for each indicator. Tacoma also focused on family engagement, which included creating a rubric for schools to assess their own family engagement activities and curating additional tools and resources for their family engagement online hub.
Yakima: Yakima, in partnership with Leading Educators, began a quarterly series to build coherent expectations for professional learning and instructional excellence at all levels. Topics include equity for multilingual learners and multilingual learner strategies for math. After previewing equity-focused content to principals, the district hosts professional learning sessions for Instructional Facilitators and Teachers on Special Assignment, who then translate the learning for teachers at their specific school sites.
We Want to Hear from You
May 1-7 is Teacher Appreciation Week. Educators have been asked to manage a lot of changes in the last year, including an initial shift to virtual instruction, ongoing pandemic concerns, and stressors on mental health and burnout. We’d love to elevate teachers’ perspectives in our May newsletter. Let us know which teacher you think we should feature.
What We're Reading and Watching
- Washington is offering more college aid than ever, plus new admission guarantees. Will students buy in?, The Seattle Times
- Young artist with Autism opens gallery in Spokane during Autism Acceptance Month, KHQ
- Meet the students pushing for more equity in public schools, Crosscut podcast
- Substitute teachers vanished, so WA schools turned to new ideas, The Seattle Times
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