As I Pause to Give Thanks
On the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday break, now is a good time to pause and reflect on what opportunities we have to demonstrate gratitude and the opportunities we have to join together as a united community in support of our children.
I have dedicated my life and career to serving the needs of communities, families, and students. As the Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools everyday I am grateful for this opportunity. As I visit classrooms each week, I am impressed by the quality of instruction and the dedication of Seattle Public Schools staff to student success.
I am thankful for the exciting accomplishments many of our schools are demonstrating. I am thankful for the time and incredible amounts of energy our school board, staff, families, and community partners dedicate every day to helping students on their personal educational path and to realize their dreams.
Gratitude enables us to see our lives in the larger context of our relationships with our families, neighbors, and communities. Gratitude also reminds me that I am not in this work alone. I know that the district’s vision of every student prepared for college, career, and life is possible, but it is only possible through relationship and partnership. It is only possible when we are united in our commitment to each and every student’s success.
So, I want to take this opportunity to thank you. Thank you for your commitment to Seattle Public Schools and to our students. Thank you for believing in public education. But most of all, thank you for entrusting me, our staff, and the School Board with our future’s greatest hope—our next generation.
In return, I have committed to improving my communication and engagement with the district’s many stakeholders, but especially our families and students. This new monthly letter is one of the ways I will be reaching out over the year to learn what matters most to you and how we can better serve and support every student’s educational journey and success. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for the privilege of serving Seattle Public Schools, your family, and student.
Dr. Larry Nyland
Excellence Though Equity: Our Commitment
Seattle Public Schools is a high-performing urban district. For the past decade, the district has academically outperformed the state of Washington and similar districts across the nation. We are a growing district. Since 2007, we have increased our student enrollment by more than 8,000 students.
But despite making promising progress, our district continues to have unacceptable achievement gaps for our students of color. Among the 200 largest school districts in the U.S., Seattle has the fifth-largest achievement gap between black and white students. Our promise of an excellent education has not been fulfilled for every student. This is unacceptable. Addressing and eliminating opportunity gaps is the issue of our time. We will only realize excellence in education by addressing inequity head on.
Over these last few months, school leaders, staff, and families have heard me affirm our district’s unwavering commitment to eliminating opportunity gaps in educational access and removing barriers to success. Addressing opportunity gaps requires us to critically examine our practices, policies, and student supports.
The district’s Eliminating Opportunity Gaps (EOG) initiative aligns and connects work focused on high quality student academic outcomes for every student, in every classroom. Across schools and central departments we are examining the root cause of outcome disparities and working together to address inequity. Visit our Eliminating Opportunity Gaps webpage to learn more.
EOG is a powerful initiative with one goal: improve academic outcomes for all Seattle students especially those who have been historically underserved.
Here is how it works:
- Enhance positive learning by focusing on student strengths, needs, and success;
- Reinforce positive beliefs–shift the hearts and minds of adults;
- Facilitate positive relationships to assure there is one caring adult at school for each student;
- Actively foster positive partnerships by engaging families and community partners.
Building positive student-adult relationship is one theme for this school year. It is just one way we are working to improve school climate and student success, but is foundational.
We know students do better when they know they have caring adults who advocate for them, encourage and support their learning. We are committed to knowing each student by their strengths, their need and ensuring they have the supports required to reach their fullest potential.
In this line of work, I am often reminded that students have a lot to teach us. Below is a short clip of young people as well as staff and parents telling us why relationship matters.
Educators Fostering Positive School and Classroom Climates
Just before the start of the school year, more than 4,000 district staff participated in a district-wide professional training focused on improving school climate through positive relationships.
School and central staff examined how each of us can contribute to welcoming, affirming school and classroom climates for each and every student. Staff left this workshop with a specific goal and commitment for the year. This work was led by the Partnership Committee which includes the Seattle Education Association, central office, and the principal association.
Since that time, I have seen firsthand this work in our schools–—from the post-it notes recently put on every student’s locker at Eckstein Middle school affirming the staff’s care for our children to the Husky Club nurturing well-rounded learners at West Seattle Elementary.
I also welcome you to listen to Gerald Donaldson’s testimony on why relationships matter in school at the State of the District 2016. Mr. Donaldson is the Family Support Worker at Leschi Elementary and has been serving the families and students of Seattle Public Schools for 30 years. During the panel discussion, he spoke to why love matters and how one adult’s belief in a child can transform that child’s life. [Watch the panel discussion on YouTube]
My Brother's Keeper: Mentors Helping Students Stay on Track
My last example of this work to build positive relationships is My Brother's Keeper. Aki Kurose was the first Seattle Public School to pilot President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper program.
About this time last year, Aki Kurose staff identified 60 African American students who were struggling with chronic absenteeism and not meeting proficiency standards on the state tests. These students were given the opportunity to meet several times a week with a mentor, somebody who knew who they were, cared about them, and took an interest in why they weren’t attending school regularly.
As a result, 94 percent missed less than five days during the second semester. That alone was a major change in their lives. More than 65 percent made progress academically, and 50 percent were proficient for the first time on the state tests. These caring adults made a huge difference for these kids. They helped make a significant difference in the lives of these students. Relationships matter and through our partnership with the City of Seattle we will be expanding this program to five additional middle schools in the next year.
From My Bookshelf
As we enjoy the spirit of the holiday season ahead of us, I’d like to offer a reading suggestion for you and your family. "What Do You Do With An Idea" is a wonderful book written by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom.
This is a book that my daughter gave me and I recently shared it with my senior staff. It is a reminder that each of us have something special and unique to share and that our ideas can change and better the world! Read more about "What Do You Do with an Idea."
State of the District 2016
Using successful strategies to Eliminating Opportunity Gaps was the focal point of State of the District, which was held November 7, 2016 at Franklin High School.
You can read more about how Seattle Public Schools is moving ahead on our news article. Read more about the State of the District.