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    Partnerships Bring Luminosity to Student Success
    Posted on 01/30/2017
    Paint cans and paint cups line up for MLK mural painting event

    Working together we increase student opportunities

    On Monday, Jan. 30, I shared the district’s commitment to serving all of our students. Through positive, intentional partnerships with educators, community organizations, and families, I know we can support the unique strengths and needs of every child in our care.

    Every day our educators, staff, and community partners extend themselves just a little further to meet the needs of our students.

    A recent partnership between two elementary schools North Beach and Northgate and Mary’s Place, a local nonprofit that helps address the basic needs of families experiencing homelessness, provide an inspiring example.

    collage of three photos of the book driveThe librarian at Northgate, Kate Eads, discovered that 25 percent of her students are currently experiencing homelessness and that a number of children are temporarily living at Mary’s Place. Kate was curious about the reading materials available to students after school and so she visited Mary’s Place Kids Club.

    She discovered that many of the donated books were woefully outdated and were often left unread because they didn't appeal to the children. Recognizing that students fall in love with reading when they have books that interest them, she made a plan.

    Working in collaboration with the North Beach librarian, Kristine McLane, they partnered with families to raise funds for a Mary’s Place book collection. Not only did the two librarians nearly triple their financial goal, 5th grade students at North Beach helped prepare the books for delivery. A few of the books to be donated are pictured above.

    On Feb. 2, the books will be delivered in time for Mary's Place first Thursday Story Time, a weekly session developed by Kate in December 2016.

    I will join story time at Mary's Place, where I am honored to connect with students, as well as celebrating not only the great gift these librarians have given our students, but their dedication to our community.

    While this is just one example of a positive partnership, it is reflective of many of the stories I hear when visiting schools. In the article below, you'll read more about examples of how partnerships are boosting student achievement.

    A willingness to partner, is grounded by a belief that opportunities are everywhere and that by working together we can realize something greater for our students and community.

    One of the books I recently shared with staff, titled "Believe" by Dan Zadra, is a book of great quotations to inspire and encourage. All of us need encouragement at times. Read more about this book. Here are just a few of my favorite thoughts from Zandra's book:

    Believe that opportunity is everywhere
    Believe that you are blessed
    Believe in second chances
    Believe the best is yet to be

    Thank you for trusting Seattle Public Schools with the education of your child. These next few months, as the State negotiates basic education funding, and what it means for our district, will be difficult on our educators, families, and staff. I wish it wasn’t necessary.

    Superintendent Nyland, teacher and students at John Hay

    If you ever have questions or concerns, you may contact me directly at or

    Thank you for the privilege of serving Seattle Public Schools, your family, and student.

    Warm regards,

    Dr. Larry Nyland

    A Focus on Partnerships Helps Students Succeed

    Central to Seattle Public Schools’ commitment to educational equity is our engagement work with community partners, educators, students, and families. We know productive partnerships with these allies improve outcomes for our students and their communities.

    Our mission is to improve educational outcomes for all students. Employing authentic engagement strategies and effective, reciprocal partnerships helps us gain momentum towards this goal.

    Building positive partnerships, one of the district’s four signature strategies to eliminate opportunity gaps, is a district-wide approach. With their emphasis on inclusion, the Musical Pathways Project, Family Connectors University, and our partnership with City Year Seattle are examples of efforts across the district that are helping students achieve more through collaboration.

    City Year Seattle

    Paint cans and paint cups line up for MLK mural painting eventNearly 300 people came out to Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary to honor Dr. King for a day of service on Monday, January 16, 2017. The annual City Year Day of Action is more than a volunteering opportunity; it is a daylong community service project promoting civic and community conscious action.

    Volunteers from City Year Seattle AmeriCorps, University of Washington Pipeline Corps, community partners, students, and families, took part in the day of service. They beautified the school grounds, joined workshops exploring social justice issues, and painted colorful murals inside the hallways and gymnasium.

    School Board President Sue Peters and Mayor Ed Murry addressed the packed auditorium to kick off the service day thanking the volunteers for an unwavering commitment to Dr. King's vision of a more just society.

    "Small acts of heroism can happen every day in our own lives. Every student who braves doubt or misfortune, and picks up a pencil, a book, or turns on a computer and tries her or his best anyway. Every teacher or helper who boosts a student’s confidence and helps them uncover their spark, their talents," said Director Peters. "Thank you for your work, for helping our students become the next generation of thinkers and doers."

    The concept for the art murals was born at a student listening session. When asked “What do you want to see in our school?,” MLK Jr. Elementary student leaders said they want the school walls to reflect students’ culture(s).

    Principal Christopher Thomas wants his students to know, no matter their background, they are welcome at school and that they are each an agent for positive change in their communities.

    He says one of the school's primary goals is to “assure students know their voice is heard. The goal is for students to know they are welcome and families trust that the school climate is beneficial for their kids.”

    The resulting art mural is vibrant and full of movement. The brightly painted geometric shapes represent world flags, trees, rainbows, and include positive messages and painted frames that can be used to display student art.

    “It is a living art mural that will grow and adapt with the students,” says Yonas Fikak the City Year Seattle program manager at MLK Jr. Elementary.

    Yonas Fikak the City Year Seattle program manager at MLK Jr. ElementaryCity Year corps members and volunteers paint one of the murals during the Day of Action event.One of the quotes painted in the stairwell at MLK Jr. ElemOne MLK Jr. Elem. 2nd grade class displays hand drawn flags of their countries of originDirector Peters and Principal Thomas with City Year Seattle program leaders on the day of action 2017.

    Yonas Fikak the City Year Seattle program manager at MLK Jr. Elementary

    City Year corps members and volunteers paint one of the murals during the Day of Action event.

    One of the quotes painted in the stairwell at MLK Jr. Elem

    One MLK Jr. Elem. 2nd grade class displays hand drawn flags of their countries of origin

    Director Peters and Principal Thomas with City Year Seattle program leaders on the day of action 2017.

    Through our partnership with City Year Seattle, the City Year AmeriCorp members provide vital services to 4,600 students in 10 of the district’s southwest and southeast schools. The nonprofit organization helps the MLK Jr. school staff with academic and social emotional learning support, after school child care staffing, and by sponsoring positive school climate campaigns with special events such as the Day of Action.

    The MLK Jr. Elementary mural design committee included students, AmeriCorp members, and City Year staff. Although the concept changed throughout the design process, the guiding principle was to find iconography that is inclusive and represents a diverse student body, which includes families who speak approximately 20 different languages at home.

    Both Thomas and Fikak credit the success of the Day of Action to community engagement with family, staff, and partners.

    “Community input is the key that will helps us become the school we want to be,” says Principal Thomas. A community focused on academic growth and a place where people feel they are safe and can grow. This is our most important commitment.”

    The work that enables that to happen is a complex process says Principal Thomas. He leads frequent listening sessions, small focus groups, community meetings, and weekly phone and email messages to families. The school hosts fun and informative student-centered events throughout the year such as Family Engagement Action Team math nights and a recent Lunar New Year celebration.

    The school staff, which is a mix of veterans and new faces, works thoughtfully to help build inclusivity so that everyone is welcomed to the conversation.

    Fikak, who moved back to Seattle after a stint as an AmeriCorp volunteer and then teaching in New York City, says he is impressed by the district’s work with community partners such as City Year.

    “While we still have a lot of work to do, Seattle [Public Schools] is doing great work to align with community partners in order to have tough conversations about race and equity and work toward educational equity.”

    You can read more about this day of service and see more photos on the City Year blog.

    Family Connectors University

    Family Connectors University is a district-led effort to build family engagement and advance collaborative problem-solving and positive outcomes for students.

    The Family Connectors University program is a 10-week series of workshops designed to empower families with information about how to navigate the school system and how they can help support their student’s academic success, including how to help them prepare for college.

    The workshops, offered in various languages throughout the year, offers two college credits thanks to a partnership with Seattle Colleges. The evening workshops offer free tutoring and activities for students during class hours. The program costs $32 per quarter, but scholarships are available for families facing financial hardship, or whose children qualify for the Free and Reduced Lunch program.

    Although this winter's session is already in full swing, be on the look out for upcoming opportunities to enroll in this highly-informative and family-friendly workshop series. For more information, please visit our Family Connectors University webpage.

    Musical Pathways Project

    Middle school student practice in band classThe Musical Pathways Project, active in eight Southeast and Southwest Seattle schools, augments schools’ instrumental music departments with additional music teaching artists from two Seattle orchestras.

    The project offers a pathway to musical study for many beginning music students in Arbor Heights, Concord, Highland Park, Roxhill, Sanislo, West Seattle elementary schools as well as Denny International and Aki Kurose middle schools.

    A collaboration with Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestras, Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestras, and Seattle Public Schools, the project taps into the talents of the two orchestras to provide additional highly trained teaching specialists that work directly under the supervision of SPS music educators.

    The lessons, which are part of the regularly scheduled school Elementary Instrumental Music instructional time, occur during and after school. The additional support of these teaching artists enables music departments to offer additional spaces in the school’s band and orchestra programs so that more students can participate.

    Research clearly demonstrates that increased music and arts instruction can help us close the academic achievement gap. Learning in the arts supports whole child development and improves learning and education outcomes for students.

    A 2012 National Endowment for the Arts report “The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth” demonstrates the correlation of student exposure to high levels of arts and better academic outcomes.

    By participating in musical study, students engage in the importance of the individual artistic process and the collective group experience as they set goals, sustain motivation, and engage in creative collaboration with peers. They are also building meaningful relationships with musical mentors.

    SPS Partners with Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra, Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestras through the Musical Pathways Program from Seattle Public Schools on Vimeo.