Successful Strategies to Eliminating Opportunity Gaps Focal Point of State of the District
Highlights of the 2016 Seattle Public Schools State of the District
The 2016 State of the District drew hundreds of attendees. Moving at a lively pace, the event alternated between updates on progress, examples of success and challenges, and student performance. [See photos of the event on Flickr.]
The emcee, Zachary Stowell, Assistant Principal of Catherine Blaine K-8 explained that the State of the District event was “about telling the story of Seattle Public Schools, students and the community; a story of hope, social justice and a commitment to ensure that every single student in our thriving city is successful.”
Following Stowell’s opening remarks was an inspiring performance of “Man in the Mirror” performed by the Thurgood Marshall Elementary School choir. The students took high fives from the audience as they later exited the stage to make way for School Board President Betty Patu. [Watch the Thurgood Marshall Choir performance]
President Patu shared the deeply personal struggles she faced as a young student from American Samoa in Seattle Public Schools. President Patu explained that her experience had inspired her over the past 40 years to build a legacy of supporting students. She called upon the audience to join her, asking “What legacy will you leave?” [Watch President Patu's address]
Following President Patu, Superintendent Nyland took the stage expressing his thanks to organizations large and small. He summarized the story of Seattle Public Schools (SPS):
- SPS consistently outperforms its peer districts
- Significant opportunity and achievement gaps continue to exist
- The district is learning from schools that are eliminating gaps
In studying schools that are eliminating gaps, Superintendent Nyland reported a common theme; they were successful at building positive student-teacher relationships, school climate and a sense of belonging among students. These findings inform one of the district’s four signature strategies for eliminating opportunity gaps, specifically, positive relationships.
My Brother’s Keeper was cited as an example of how impactful positive relationships can be. Superintendent Nyland celebrated the program’s success at Aki Kurose Middle School explaining that 50 percent of participating students reached academic proficiency for the first time. The program also dramatically reduced absenteeism with 94 percent missing class just five times. Although My Brother’s Keeper is focused on African American students, the lessons learned by district staff can be applied to other schools for the benefit of all students.
Further evidence of district achievement was 11 schools receiving recognition as Schools of Distinction—the highest improving schools in Washington State. Nine of them were repeat winners. Other highlights include Olympic Hills Elementary having the highest academic scores for students of color in Washington state; Denny, Mercer, and Aki Kurose having the highest math scores for African American students in Washington state; and the district receiving the Schools and Family Partnerships Award from Johns Hopkins University. Also celebrated was Principal Mia Williams of Aki Kurose being recognized as middle school principal of the year by AWSP.
Interspersed throughout the evening’s program were performances by SPS students. A poetry reading by the 2016 Youth Speaks Champion, Azura Tyabji, led to a standing ovation. [Watch Azura Tyabji read her poem]
Students Aminata Diou and Rachel Kaftan sang a duet of “Imagine.” That song echoed the superintendent’s call to imagine, and make real, a caring, supportive learning environment for each and every student. [Watch Aminata Diou and Rachel Kaftan's performance]
Following the duet, Assistant Principal Stowell lead a panel discussion with Helen Joung, Executive Director of schools for Seattle Southwest region, Gerald Donaldson, Family Support Worker at Leschi Elementary School and Dwane Chappelle, Director of the Seattle Department of Education and Early Learning. The panel illustrated the impact of positive beliefs and positive relationships on students by sharing stories about students they’ve worked with. They also underscored the power of collaboration between schools, the district, city, and partners in creating positive change. [Watch the panel discussion]
Closing out the evening, two students from Franklin High School took the stage to express their hopes for the future of Seattle Public Schools. Modelling for the audience their next task, they reminded attendees that they had heard the hopes of Seattle Public Schools staff, the superintendent, and the mayor of Seattle, but now it was their turn.
As the Franklin orchestra played, the audience wrote down their own hopes for the future of the district on blue and yellow stars. As people left the auditorium, the stars were collected by members of City Year Seattle Corps and will be displayed in the auditorium at the John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence. [Watch Franklin orchestra's performance]
Watch the extended video recording of the State of the District