Taxpayers say ‘yes’ to better education

Nia Jones, Staff Reporter

Seattle voters once again renewed the Families, Education, Preschool and Promise Levy (FEPP) in the November midterm elections. The levy aims to provide students and their families better access to education. 

“People that are trying to have their kids go to preschool will have to try to pay for, or find a high-quality preschool on their own,” Seattle Public Schools’ Chief Strategy and Partnerships Officer Brent Jones said. 

This would mean low-income families may struggle to afford or even find a preschool that sets their child up for success. In addition, students would lose access to the Seattle Promise scholarship funding.

“This is an exciting opportunity for many students who may not have seen college as an option,” said Sherri Kokx, special assistant to Superintendent Denise Juneau, about the Seattle Promise scholarships providing all students access to postsecondary education.

The Seattle Promise Program is a government-funded scholarship that provides access to two years of community college for high school graduates. It aims to increase access to higher education for students of color, low-income students, and first-generation college students.

“At the K-12 and Community level, our investments strive to increase the number students graduating and prepares them for college and a career,” Dwane Chappelle, director of the Department of Education and Early Learning in Seattle Schools said.

But this funding would have been lost if the levy didn’t pass. In addition, some SPS staff members may have had to move schools or even have lost their jobs.

“Family support managers would not be available to give families needed supports to connect them to other services.” Jones said of the levy funding. “Health centers wouldn’t be available to high schools and middle schools.”

Renewal of the levy means Seattle taxpayers will pay more each month to support education. During the past seven years, a little more $600 million has been taxed and put toward SPS students. 

“Investing in quality preschool, K-12 and access to college and career opportunities will help our young scholars throughout their lives,” Chappelle said. “These investments will build economic opportunity for all young scholars in Seattle by closing the opportunity gap and creating pathways to good-paying jobs.”

MOLLY HOUSE
Science teacher Francis Lin, left, works with senior Keimyah Gayden on an assignment. The new hire advises two clubs. He came dressed as “Seattle Freeze” on Halloween.

As Cleveland’s student body grows, so does the number of staff members. And the new hires are giving the faculty a boost of energy. More teachers are stepping up by leading clubs, participating in events and wanting to do more around the school. They are also finding new ways to teach content and seeking ways to get to know and support students and families. 

New hires Francis Lin and Paige Wakamatsu Wilson, who teach science and math, respectively, immediately found ways to plug into the school community. Lin is currently serving as the advisor to two after school activities, the Smash Club and the Vietnamese Student Club. Wanting to broaden her involvement, Wakamatsu Wilson quickly got involved with school committees.

“I was lucky enough to get selected to be on the BLT [Building Leadership Team],” she said. “I joined the social committee – so trying to celebrate … staff birthdays or any celebrations … I picked up some CASH shifts.” 

Wakamatsu Wilson said she wanted to join the school’s Race and Equity team, but the group meets on Thursdays at the same time as CASH. On the weekends, she goes to a local library to support students in AP Calculus or Algebra 1 students who want to test out of Geometry.

“I’m trying to make myself as available as possible,” she said. “I try to go to … the Beacon Hill Library most Saturdays. I’m there at least three out of the four Saturdays of the month.” 

Teachers are also looking for more ways to be more engaged with students outside of academics. Handing out candy on Halloween and attending sporting events are just some of the ways staff members are showing their support. Ninth grade counselor Claire Abe said reaching out to all new students and families is her way of trying to connect.

“Just kind of being available to support any student that comes into the counseling office and helping out where I can,” said Abe. She also advises the Key Club.

MOLLY HOUSE

Math teacher Paige Wakamatsu Wilson has thrown herself into the Cleveland culture. She is the head of the staff’s social committee, a member of the Building Leadership Team and tutors students in CASH.

Science teacher Steve Pratt is in his 11th year at Cleveland. He used to serve as the manager for Ultimate Frisbee before handing it over to the new attendance counselor, Lynda Hoang. Pratt said the culture of the school is becoming different by how his colleagues teach their curriculum. He said the teachers are more enthusiastic.

“When I first came, I remember there were teachers that … would give out assignments for [students] to just watch a film and write down 10 facts about it. That’s all you had to do,” he said. “There wasn’t a lot of critical thinking, there wasn’t a lot of asking questions, there weren’t a lot of projects around social justice.”

Now, teachers are making students think outside the box and critically about the world around them.

“We’re doing the CHIA project and the Water Project, which try to address larger global issues through the lens of science and engineering and problem solving,” said Pratt.

Students appreciate the teachers who are choosing to step up. Senior Xiao Lin Huang said there is a definite difference in her ninth-grade education versus his senior year.

Senior Xiao Lin Huang sees the difference in the staff’s energy.

“In ninth grade, [my teacher] didn’t really teach us what is happening around us, like what is going on in the news,” Huang said. “Now I have Ms. [Stephanie] Cristol. We learn about what is going on in the real world … something that is relevant to us like our personal statements … and our government.” 

Hoang thinks the new staff is more caring.

“They are more aware of what we need instead of just teaching us the … standard.”

Wakamatsu Wilson said it isn’t just the new staff who’s the source of energy. She is impressed by her colleagues who are giving “110 percent.”

“I see my colleagues working really hard and doing everything they can to support students,” she said. “It kind of pushes me to a little more in math … so I can make sure my students are successful as well.” 

The change can be placed on multiple aspects, with hiring being at the top of the list. 

“I think [administration does] a good job of looking for candidates who are energetic, and I would also say humble in the sense that they take feedback and do something with it rather than always saying, ‘Well, this is how I’ve done it, and so I’m going keep doing what I want to do,’” said Pratt. “Cleveland of today is not the Cleveland of when I came in 11 years ago.”