Edmonds School Board considers how to apply discipline fairly

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By Eileen Kelliher

On April 30, the Edmonds School Board heard from Assistant Superintendent Ellen Kahan and an involved parent from the Equity Alliance for Achievement Committee (EAACH). They raised the issue of “reclaiming students” as their committee’s priority. Kahan explained that term meant striving to keep students of color, those with limited economic resources and those with disabilities in the district, in the building and in the classroom, when discipline issues arise.

When it comes to discipline, there is a disparity that impacts these students,  according to Kahan. Referencing data pulled together by Assistant Superintendent Patrick Murphy, she added that this is true across the nation, across Washington State and in the Edmonds School Distric.  Oftentimes, discipline decisions are subjective and the staff that makes them has learned biases that need to be overcome.

Another EAACH concern is that parent members “sometimes feel unwelcome or ignored within the school,” Kahan’s report states.  To nurture inclusive school cultures, the committee has drafted some ideas for consideration, particularly as they relate to the new teacher and principal evaluation guidelines. A primary request is for better communication between parents and staff.  Among other steps the district is taking, there was recently an anti-racism training for principals and on-going training in the use of the Language-Line for office staff. Board member Susan Phillips asked whether schools’ parents could become mentors of immigrant parents as an attempt to help them feel more a part of the community.

Also during the evening, the board addressed the following items:
– Assistant Superintendent Patrick Murphy brought the discussion topic before the board: Whether high school seniors who do not meet the new state math requirement should be allowed to “walk” across the stage during commencement. Murphy noted that this would affect about 22 students at the most — out of 1,500 graduates districtwide — who will not pass the math requirement in time. Of these 22, about seven are working on a Collection of Evidence ( an alternative evaluation of a set of work samples based on classroom work) but they will not get the results back in time from the state to know whether they can participate in graduation ceremonies.

The timeliness of this topic was underscored during public comment when a high school senior parent asked the board let his daughter join commencement ceremonies even though it won’t be certain that she has met all the graduation requirements. She is currently one of the seven working on her Collection of Evidence. Board member Kory DeMun voiced his appreciation for counselors and staff as they help seniors over these last hurdles; however he added, “I worry about precedent” if the commencement rules are loosened.  “Next year is going to be even worse,” he said.

The board mulled over asking the Citizens Planning Committee to study this next year, anticipating even more stringent graduation requirements in math. Board member Diana White spoke up in favor of letting students walk, saying that the state Legislature is getting out of hand by requiring constantly changing tests. White said she believes the state is calling our children failures when it denies them graduation based on not overcoming the latest testing hurdles, and believes that there is a huge negative stigma attached to being denied the graduation ceremony.

In the end, Murphy put out a statement to counselors that, “Due to a lack of understanding around Collection of Evidence (COE) as acknowledged by the state, and for 2013 only, participation in commencement ceremonies is allowed for seniors who have completed all graduation requirements for graduation. However, for any students who have met all requirements, except a state test, he/she may participate in commencement provided they have submitted a COE for those required areas by June 12, 2013 and results are pending.”

Debbie Carter, Executive Director of Human Resources, joined District Superintendent Nick Brossoit in briefing the board on efforts to staff support for principals next year so that they can focus on implementing the new teacher evaluation system. Brossoit told the board that in addition to hiring new highly-qualified paraeducators in this role, principals would like the flexibility to use current staff — for example, the dean of students might take on extra duties. Calling it a “done deal,” Board Chairman Ann McMurray and the board gave the green light on preparations to hire these new staff members and said that the district would commit the funds and would not tie it to what the state budget finally looked like.

Additionally, Brossoit asked the board if the district could prepare to advertise for as many as 40 teaching positions as long as the state in the end comes up with supporting funds. McMurray concurred and said that as long as there was full disclosure about the funding question, the district had the go-ahead to advertise now.

Carter put forward a Reduced Educational Program for 2013-14 Resolution for a first reading. This sets the stage for reducing district staffing until funds are secured as the state finalizes its budget and the school district pins down how many students it will have in the fall. Most staff that was surplussed was re-assigned to other areas, Carter reported. The exception is in the Career and Technical Education program, where 1.7 FTE (full-time equivalent) cuts had to be made affecting four individuals.

In addition to the EAACH report, Kahan also updated the gradual boundary change in the northeast quadrant elementaries. At this point for next academic year:  28 students have chosen be grandfathered in and remain at Hilltop rather than go to Brier, and 99 students will stay at Hazelwood while three of their current classmates will go to Cedar Way. At Hilltop, 77 current students will remain, while 24 other students are choosing to go to Hazelwood. Lastly, 87 students prefer to continue their studies at Martha Lake while three will transition to Hazelwood.

Under new business as a first reading, Capital Projects Director Ed Peters requested the board approve $100,000 for development of scope-of-work and cost estimates for the Melody Hill demolition project. This would include a land survey, which would help with marketing, he reported, and also an asbestos removal assessment. He asked that the board authorize $200,000 to be spent for traffic and pedestrian safety projects at Hilltop, Spruce and Martha Lake Elementary.

The board celebrated Betsy Zeifman, Hinda Yukimura, and Priscilla Krueger of the English Language Learners (ELL) Family Literacy Program. “They are tireless advocates” for the immigrant community in ESD,” said Andi Nofziger-Meadows, president of the Edmonds Education Association, who nominated them. The three were just awarded the 2013 Washington Education Association Human and Civil Rights Award in the Community Service category, Nofziger-Meadows added. Board member Gary Noble commended the program for teaching United States culture and training parents how to be advocates for their children.

Kahan put forward Zed Aschenaki for celebration as a “Natural Leader.” Aschenaki has been a committed member of EAACH since it was formed in December 2009 and is part of its Leadership Committee. “She enriches our school community with the perspective of someone who has adopted our schools and culture after moving here from another country,” Kahan said.

And the board in turn was celebrated by a Meadowdale High School parent who came back to thank board members and the superintendent for keeping music funding adequate during the recent recession. She has two daughters who will now pursue music as careers due to their great experience at Meadowdale.

The board next meets on May 14 at 6:30 pm at the Educational Services Center, 20420 68th Ave. W., Lynnwood.

School board contributing writer Eileen Kelliher served as a parent volunteer while her three children went through Seaview Elementary, Meadowdale Middle School, and Edmonds-Woodway High School.  She works occasionally as a substitute classified employee for the Edmonds School District.

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