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    The Journey of Transitioning: Looking Back to Move Forward
    Posted on 06/01/2018
    Superintendent Nyland and a student talk in a classroom

    The Journey of Transitioning: Looking Back to Move Forward

    Graduation season is upon us. Starting on June 18, seniors in Seattle will find themselves with a high school diploma in hand, ready for the next steps of their life journey. As we prepare to watch our Seattle Public School scholars walk across the stage, we are reminded of the many ways educators, families and our community partners have ensured students are unconditionally supported and loved. From providing weekend food backpacks to providing a glowing college reference to mentorship, staff and our community have gone above and beyond to make sure students can take full advantage of their education. Families have partnered with us in this endeavor – holding the district accountable to the promise of an excellent education and working with staff to best meet the unique needs of each student.

    My greatest hope is that our graduates leave Seattle Public Schools prepared with the knowledge and determination to create the life they desire for themselves, their family and community. If you know a graduating senior, please help me in congratulating them on a job well done!

    Transitions are exciting times. With each move, comes a level of hope for the future, the anxiety of what’s to come and a chance to reflect on what has been accomplished thus far.

    Serving the students, staff and families of Seattle Public Schools for the past four years has been one of my greatest professional opportunities and a profound joy. I know personally the transformational power of education. Education lifted my own family out of poverty and changed the course of my life. My life’s work has been paying it forward and ensuring others receive the same benefits of a great, public education.

    As I look forward to semi-retirement and step into my last month with the district, I have been reflecting on the growth we’ve made as a community. Together, we’ve strengthened relationships in our communities and schools; challenged ourselves and each other to relentlessly address racial inequities in education; created policies and practices that affirm our students and create safe learning environments; and aligned our resources and strategies towards common goals. As a community, we also have learned together to improve our educational practices both in and outside of the district.

    You have heard me say that eliminating opportunity gaps IS the issue of our time. It is both a moral and economic imperative. Only when each child is thriving have we met our collective commitment to educational excellence.

    Together, we have been working to make sure our systems and practices lift all our students. It is challenging and complex work to establish racial equity. It requires changes in beliefs, reallocation of supports, and sustained attention. It is also the right thing to do for students and for the long-term health of our community.

    In closing, I am proud of the progress we have made, and I challenge our staff, families and partners to keep the focus on racial equity in the years to come. Seattle Public Schools is positioned to lead the nation in this work. If any district can truly transform and become what our students need – it is Seattle.

    As I look forward to my professional transition, I leave you with a review of what we have accomplished together. I am extremely proud of the progress our schools, educators and leaders have made in the past four years working in partnership with you to lift all our students.

    Committing to Excellence and Equity

    Seattle was the second district in the United States to adopt a racial equity policy. In 2013, we made a commitment to eliminate opportunity gaps through our strategic plan, under the goal “Excellence and Equity.” Although we have a long way to go, we have made significant progress and many schools are leading the state in their transformative work. During the past four years, we have continued to replicate effective practices in more than two dozen schools, learning from our school administrators and educators. Highlights from the past four years include:

    • Seattle Public Schools ranks No. 3 in the nation for large urban districts in student academic growth between third and eighth grades. Students of color are also demonstrating significant growth from third to eighth grade.
    • Seattle students achieve 5.7 years of growth over five years (3rd highest of the 200 largest districts).
    • Twenty-four schools are now leading the state in closing gaps in reading or math, and two of our schools rank in the top 1 percent nationally in closing gaps.
    • Graduation rates are on the rise amongst all students, and most notably students of color.

    Ensuring High-quality Teachers and Leaders

    People are our most important resource. Our educators work to create engaging and supportive learning environments for every student, applying the craft of teaching to provide individualized support for every student’s success. It brings me great joy to say that we have:

    • Strengthened our workforce diversification. Thanks to “grow our own “programs, 20 percent of our new hires are teachers of color and 40 percent of new administrators are of color.
    • Transformed teacher evaluations, thanks to a collaborative effort with Seattle Education Association (SEA) and Principal Association of Seattle Schools (PASS), from a “top down approach” to a comprehensive peer process.
    • Collaborated with Seattle Education Association (SEA) to invest in district racial equity teams, which has expanded to 43 schools, with the intention to bring in 10 more each year.

    Engaging Families and Communities

    We know that we cannot do this work alone. When the Seattle Board of Directors recognized the African American Male Advisory Committee as a Seattle Public Schools Premier Partner in April, speaker representative, Anthony Shoecraft shared the African proverb, “If you want to go quickly, then go alone. If you want to go far, then go together.” Seattle Public Schools is fortunate to have many partners who are working closely with us to realize the promise of educational excellence for every student. Our families, advisory groups, community-based organizations, labor partners and grant makers are instrumental in eliminating gaps and serving students. This is illustrated by:

    • The My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) mentorship program, the first such program in the nation, was launched in 2015 at Aki Kurose Middle School and has resulted in 65 percent of students meeting proficiency on customized tests called Smarter Balanced assessments. The MBK program, run by Seattle Parks and Recreation, has expanded to five additional Seattle Public School middle schools.
    • Seattle Public Schools’ unique partnership with the City of Seattle has expanded preschool options, meals for low-income students and wrap around support for our learners.
    • Seattle Housing Authority houses more than 6000 families – 12 percent of our student enrollment. Thanks to their partnership and strategies, attendance has improved 24 percent in the past year for our shared students.
    • Several district advisory efforts; Equity and Race Advisory Committee (ERAC), African American Male Advisory Committee (AAMAC), Ethnic Studies and Indian Education were established and continue our work to further close the gap.

    Below are some of the books that have been on my reading shelf. I offer them to you as inspiration and as a parting gift.

    “The Truth About Your Future” by Ric Edelman tells us the future is coming faster than we realize. Edelman speaks of self-driving cars, robots performing surgeries, and the idea that costs will fall and options will grow.

    “Positive Words, Powerful Results” by Hal Urban isn't particularly new, but it is truly timeless. This book shares good reminders on how we can use words to celebrate and affirm each other.

    And finally, an old favorite and a pretty good beach book, “Ship of Gold in The Deep Blue Sea” by Gary Kinder reads like a thriller and tells the story of perseverance and success amongst challenges.

    It has been a privilege to serve you, your child and this district. I look forward to celebrating the district’s continued growth.

    Warm regards,
    Dr. Larry Nyland