Seattle Hall Pass Podcast

E38 - New Curricula, Graduations on Eid, Time Use Monitoring - April 25 School Board Meeting

May 01, 2024 Christie Robertson & Jane Tunks Demel Season 1 Episode 38
E38 - New Curricula, Graduations on Eid, Time Use Monitoring - April 25 School Board Meeting
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Seattle Hall Pass Podcast
E38 - New Curricula, Graduations on Eid, Time Use Monitoring - April 25 School Board Meeting
May 01, 2024 Season 1 Episode 38
Christie Robertson & Jane Tunks Demel

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Disclaimer: Seattle Hall Pass features a variety of voices. Each person’s opinions are their own. 

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[00:00:00] Christie Robertson: Welcome to Seattle Hall Pass, a podcast with news and conversations about Seattle Public Schools. My name is Christie Robertson.

[00:00:13] Jane Tunks Demel: And I'm Jane Tunks Demel. Today we're reporting on the April 25th school board meeting, which saw two new curricula introduced, another jam-packed public testimony, and an informal community engagement work session.

[00:00:27] Christie Robertson: In addition, President Liza Rankin walked the many new school board directors through the practice where the board self-evaluates their adherence to their goals regarding how they use their time.

[00:00:38] Jane Tunks Demel: This was the first meeting of the two newly appointed board directors: Joe Mizrahi, who we interviewed in Episode 36, and Sarah Clarke, who was absent due to a previous commitment. 

It was great to see Director Mizrahi in action. We're looking forward to seeing how he shows up on the dais. 

[00:00:55] Christie Robertson: During public testimony, students and their supporters came to speak out against the fact that three high school graduations had been scheduled during the Muslim holiday, and I'll do my best to pronounce this, Eid al Adha. 

[00:01:11] Jane Tunks Demel: Is that the same Eid that marks the end of Ramadan?

[00:01:14] Christie Robertson: So that one is Eid al Fitr. And those are the two main Muslim holidays. I'm thinking of them like how Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are to Jews, where you don't go to school or do other things on that holiday.

[00:01:29] Jane Tunks Demel: So obviously, we're not experts here on Muslim holidays. But we looked it up and the date of Eid al Adha depends on the sighting of the crescent new moon, and that can vary due to cloud cover.

[00:01:41] Christie Robertson: I know that Jewish holidays are theoretically variable by the setting of the moon. But in actuality, people plan around dates, and they don't really actually change based on some rabbi seeing the moon in Israel.

[00:01:50] Jane Tunks Demel: In any case, judging by the testimony we heard that night, it's clear that many Muslim students and their community leaders have been concerned about the graduation dates for some time. And there hadn't been any action from the school board directors, the superintendent, or other district staff, although Superintendent Jones did acknowledge the speakers in his superintendent comments so he was aware of the problem. 

[00:02:23] Brent Jones: I want to just note that we have a challenge in front of us regarding some of our graduation dates. And I think some of the folks are here to speak to that. We happen to have a holy day that’s called the Eid coming up and in June. We don't know which day that's going to be yet, but we want to make sure that we're expressing clarity, that we want to have flexibility so that we make sure that we can honor our families and give them the opportunity to celebrate that holiday or that event in an appropriate way.  

[00:02:55] Jane Tunks Demel: And Christie, it’s like what we were talking about with Director Mizrahi, a lot of times when people have a customer service problem with the district, they try to contact them and get it solved. But it's not until they come down to public comment one or even two times that finally someone responds to them.

[00:03:15] Christie Robertson: I wonder what will happen. It seems like for a district as big as Seattle, it would be incredibly hard to change the date of three graduations. And yet it seems like it's pretty critical.

[00:03:31] Jane Tunks Demel: I don't think it seems that hard. Just change the date. They own the Memorial Stadium. They need to correct this error, in my opinion. 

But let's listen to the testimony. We edited for length and clarity, and you'll hear from several people here.

[00:03:49] Anyi Mohamed: My name is Anyi Mohamed and I'm a senior at Cleveland High School. I have been a part of starting the continuing student-driven effort to change Cleveland's graduation date — the date coincides with Islamic holiday Eid al Adha. 

I started this effort by first informing Cleveland's principal, Mr. Lam, in October, at the beginning of the school year. Due to the persistence of me and a few other students, he finally sat down and had a meeting with us in January where he said he would meet with district leadership to discuss this issue. 

This is when my peers and I began a campaign to bring awareness to the issue and started a petition that gained well over 200 responses from members of the Cleveland community and surrounding high schools in support of the date change. We had provided the data from the petition to the district only to receive numerous excuses about why the date wouldn't be changed. 

We've been told there's different scheduling issues and there's a state law preventing it, despite me and other students pointing out that the date has been changed in the past. We have seen no attempt at resolving this issue by our principal and the district, which we attempted to do by contacting our district representative director, Brandon Hersey. The only response we received was him thanking us for bringing it to attention and he would alert senior staff who could address it. 

[00:05:00] Layla Ismail: My name is Layla Ismail, and I'm a senior at Cleveland High School. I'm a proud SPS student and I have been for almost 10 years. And I remember feeling outraged when I heard about SPS scheduling Rainier Beach's graduation on Eid in 2022 — and Franklin's [graduation] in 2023. Why did a school district — one which prided itself on its inclusivity — purposefully exclude many of its community. But then again, the school board did the right thing: listen to their community and change a date. 

Here we stand again for the third year in a row. I hope this time our lessons and testimonies reach your ears. Scheduling the graduation on Eid purposefully ostracizes the SPS Muslim students families and staff. 

Because the school calendars are made a year in advance, you knew that Eid would be on the 17th and still you all failed the Garfield, Cleveland, and Center School Muslim communities by not considering the implications of scheduling our graduations on this holy day. There is no excuse for ignoring our calls and ask for transparency, which has spanned back to October, when we first brought this issue up.

[00:06:00] Earl Le: My name is Earl Le and I'm a first-generation Vietnamese American, and currently in my second year as a ninth-grade humanities teacher at Cleveland High School. 

How can we sit here and act like we're doing our jobs when students, teachers, and community leaders are all taking time out of their days to request a simple change. Is SPS really devoted to its plan? 

If we can't even deliver the change without a whole hearing, this defensive response has shown how the structures within SPS would rather protect their own power rather than collectively raising ideas that uplift the very students we promise to support. This power hoarding has a rippling effect on everyone, including the students. We educators who are teaching our students to change these oppressive systems can't even solve this tiny problem. The individualism needs to be addressed. 

They're asking for a change in graduation dates that support their culture and beliefs. So how can we sit here and turn a blind eye when Seattle Public Schools strategic plan states supporting students of color, who are the furthest away from educational justice, beginning with African-American boys and teens. 

We can't say this in good faith if we can't even acknowledge the institutional and structural racism that this barrier is creating. This district is literally saying you who adhere to Islam are not as important as those dates we booked three months ago. Thank you.

[00:07:19] Jane Tunks Demel: And Seattle Public Schools also scheduled the first day of kindergarten on Rosh Hashanah in 2018 and then again in 2021. 

[00:07:27] Christie Robertson: And Jane, you could certainly make the case that holding graduations on one of the two main Muslim holidays violates one or more of the school board's guardrails.

[00:07:39] Jane Tunks Demel: Yeah, I would point to Guardrail 5: The superintendent will not allow any district department, school building, or classrooms to provide unwelcoming environments.

[00:07:50] Christie Robertson: I personally wish they would just be more upfront in their thinking. They must have looked at a multicultural calendar. And did they just feel like this conflict was unavoidable? Or did they not realize how important it was? People just want to understand what happened in a case like this so they know where to direct their advocacy.

[00:08:09] Jane Tunks Demel: I personally think that it was probably just an oversight, and as we've seen in the past, the district doesn't like to admit error.

[00:08:18] Christie Robertson: So the next part of the meeting focused on the introduction of two new curricula, which apparently is something that they have not done in a very long time. These curricula were a middle school curriculum for English Language Arts, or ELA, and a high school math curriculum for algebra and geometry.

And we will let Executive Director of College and Career Readiness Caleb Perkins explain how this came about. Here's what he said at the school board meeting.

[00:9:00] Caleb Perkins: The last formal 6-8 ELA districtwide adoption was in 1998. And the last formal districtwide adoption for algebra, geometry, and algebra 2 was 2008. To say these adoptions are overdue would be a dramatic understatement. 

[00:09:15] Christie Robertson: Apparently, at least one of the former curricula was not aligned to state standards. And Director Evan Briggs asked about this in the Board Director Questions and Staff Responses document that's published efore each board meeting. Here’s Jane as Director Briggs.

[00:09:30] Jane Tunks Demel [reading Director Briggs’s question]: While I'm hopeful that these new instructional materials will improve student outcomes, it was concerning to learn that, for a number of years, our instructional materials were neither standardized across the district nor aligned to Washington State standards. How did this happen and what mechanisms have been put into place to ensure that doesn't happen again?

[00:09:49] Christie Robertson: Email us at if you have any insights to share. Until then, we're going to report what Caleb Perkins said about these materials. 

[00:10:01] Jane Tunks Demel: Okay, so the language arts curriculum is called Inquiry by Design. Caleb Perkins said that it rates high as being culturally responsive, having instructional supports for staff and in how it engages students with the materials. 

And the new math curriculum is called Illustrative Math for algebra and geometry. And as Perkins explained, this curriculum was also rated highly on content instructional supports and cultural responsiveness.

Perkins also pointed out that cultural responsiveness is crucial for any adopted math curriculum since [SPS’s] current college and career readiness data shows that some of the highest failure rates for the district student of color are in algebra and geometry.

[00:11:01] Christie Robertson: Some community members brought up that both of these curricula are primarily online. And here's what Caleb Perkins said about that. 

[00:10:53] Caleb Perkins: To be clear, it's a digital portal that has a wealth of resources. This does not mean students need to be on a computer for all aspects of their ELA and math classrooms. There will be plenty of print materials, plenty of opportunities to engage with students outside of a computer, but it is a digital portal. And one of the reasons, one of the things we learned, certainly during the pandemic, is that having continuous access to our resource, wherever we are, is critical. It's also something that we learned with science in particular during the pandemic. 

It's also the norm across educational settings. We see it in our post-secondary institutions as well as other districts and schools across the area — where digital resources are the norm. We believe it's going to help us with inclusion, our inclusionary efforts with resources like speech to text.  

[00:11:38] Jane Tunks Demel: And then Caleb Perkins shared that now that all students have laptops, what he refers to as one-to-one, opens up a different source of funds. 

[00:11:46] Caleb Perkins: And then I just want to point out one hopeful point, which is that now we're one-to-one we could take advantage of tech levy dollars that are available. And that is going to be one of the main plans going forward to ensure we're not in this kind of lag.  

[00:11:59] Christie Robertson: The ELA Inquiry by Design Curriculum is $3.8 million for nine years, and the Illustrative Math Curriculum is $3.5 million for nine years. Those costs include professional development.

[00:12:14] Jane Tunks Demel: And as Director Briggs alluded to in her earlier question, there hadn't been updates for decades. 

[00:12:22] Christie Robertson: Yeah, I remember Leslie Harris bringing up curricula over and over saying that it's the very last thing we invest in. And I think even as she was leaving, one of the last things she said was: “I hope you guys decide to finally invest in curriculum.” So maybe her wish came true.

[00:12:44] Jane Tunks Demel: And maybe inspired by her, Student Board director Aayush Muthuswamy asked a question about the timing of the curriculum updates. Let's listen to his question and then Caleb Perkins’s answer.

[00:12:55] Aayush Muthuswamy: Can I ask why this is happening now, after 20 years, 15 years based for math or English. Like the does the district have a rotational process to revisit curriculum after 10 years, after 15 years? 

Or is there some process that kicks in after a state law makes a change requiring us to update our curriculum? Because I feel like this has been a really long time. 

[00:13:16] Caleb Perkins: I think I can only agree with the spirit of your question. This has been too long and there's some background in the BAR [Board Action Report] about some of the pieces. 

We do want to praise the many heroic local extra efforts at each school to address 6-8 ELA in the interim. And there were pieces, you know, it wasn't as if educators weren't very working very hard to provide instructional materials. But there is no good answer. And we're grateful for this current leadership and the current board to really make sure that we have the funding and the mandate to take care of this, but it is long overdue. 

[00:13:47] Aayush Muthuswamy: The follow-up then: Is there a plan in place to implement some sort of procedure to revisit curriculum after a set amount of time that you're looking toward some mixture that we don't sit in the same spot 20 years later with this curriculum?

[00:14:03] Caleb Perkins: That echoes one of your fellow director's questions as well, that came to us. So I will share that there have been past efforts that I think we need to re-energize. We have what we call our red, yellow, green chart, where we track all of the adoptions in terms of how long it's been. Typically around a seven- to nine-year window is about the maximum amount of time. 

And the fact that the state standards get updated — in this case, ELA and math were updated in 2013 — that certainly should trigger a new curricular adoption. 

[00:14:30] Christie Robertson: And the heroic efforts that Caleb Perkins is referring to generally is PTA funding of curricula at certain schools, which is, of course, hugely inequitable. And I'm guessing one of the main reasons that they finally buckled down to buy curricula for the whole school district.

Meanwhile, the question remains. Why did it take so long to do this?

[00:14:49] Jane Tunks Demel: President Rankin explained what she'd seen about curriculum adoption during her time on the board.

[00:14:52] Liza Rankin: Curriculum is something like socks. You have to have them, but also you’re, “I almost have a hole in this heel, but I don't quite have a hole in this heel. And actually the bathroom sink is leaking. Instead of getting new socks this month, let's fix the bathroom sink.” 

And I know Dr. Hersey and I and other directors pointed out that for an educational institution, allowing curriculum adoption to be a place for budget reduction is really a bleak place to be. That's the whole reason we're here  — for education. And so for an educational institution to have …

Really I'll take ownership as — we are the board now, but we are also the board before us. And the ownership of the board is that they approved … we approved budgets that allowed curriculum not to be prioritized.   

[00:16:03] Christie Robertson: There's more information about these  [curricula] on the website. They go into the process that they went through to identify the curricula, including the project timeline, committee meeting minutes, and a lot more. 

The Language Arts Adoption webpage is much more thorough than the Math Adoption webpage. And we've done a public record request for the math materials. So we will update you in about a year when we get them. [Laughter.]

All right, one of the things they did in this meeting was the time use evaluations. 

Jane thinks this is boring, but I am stoked that they're doing this. It falls into the idea that the board's culture sets an example for what they expect from others. I think that anything that makes them conscientious about how they use their time can only be a good thing.

And really cool for me was that they dug up a bunch of past time use evaluations so that I was able to make a graph of how they've spent their time over the past year.

[00:17:05] Jane Tunks Demel: Yeah, so we have this really awesome graph that Christie made of board time use and it's going to be in our show notes. So Christie, what would you say are the main take-home messages?

[00:17:16] Christie Robertson: Okay, engagement is yellow on the graph, so tell our listeners how much yellow you see.

[00:17:23] Jane Tunks Demel: Is that community engagement?

[00:17:25] Christie Robertson: Community engagement. Yep. 

[00:17:27] Jane Tunks Demel: I see no yellow bars.

[00:17:30] Christie Robertson: Right. So again, that's why I love what they're doing. This is that they're just saying that's the case. Um, there, 

[00:17:39] Jane Tunks Demel: They’re admitting they’ve done no community engagement over the last year — during the [board] meetings, I guess. 

[00:17:44] Christie Robertson: Right. It means during public meetings. So yes, 0 percent community engagement over the last school year by the measurements of their time use evaluation tool. 

And, the second thing is that they are spending nowhere near their goal is of 50 percent looking at student outcomes. Here's what president Rankin said about this.

[00:18:08] Liza Rankin: We can't spend all of our time in a meeting talking just about student outcomes, because there are also other required things that we must do in our oversight of the school district. But our aim is for 50 percent. 

And Brandon, you did the time use evaluation for January and February. Was that 25, 35 percent? Yeah, that's the best we've gotten.

We usually hover somewhere around 15 percent. I just did the time use evaluation from March, and it was zero student outcomes-focused minutes. You know, there's always some anomalies of different things going on. And we had — technically the candidate forum is something that we wouldn't typically do. But since it's a public meeting hosted by the board of the full board, it counts towards the public meeting minutes for the month. 

So that's a chunk of time that isn't the other category that obviously we're not suggesting we don't do that. But it's been really helpful for us to really hold ourselves accountable to what we're doing with our time and what our role really is.

[00:19:11] Jane Tunks Demel: So the fact that they are aware of this means that I'm hoping it will be less likely that they cancel the progress monitoring sessions on their three goals. which is third grade reading, seventh grade math, and college and career readiness.

And the last thing they talked about the meeting was community engagement, but we have an interview coming up with President Rankin in which we're going to talk about just that. So stay tuned.

[00:19:37] Christie Robertson: In closing, we'll play a comment made by Seattle Council PTSA co-president Sam Fogg in talking about well-resourced schools. We have that big [school board] meeting coming up May 8th and everybody is wondering what's coming down. And Sam reminds us to keep kids at the top of our consciousness. She also asks that we get insight into the how of the way things will be implemented — and not just top-line philosophy. Something that I wholeheartedly agree with. Here's what she says.

[00:20:21] Samantha Fogg: We are preparing to hear about our next round of budget cuts and articles have been written about how hard things are. It is our expectation that there is already no room in our budget to pay anyone who does not know their why. 

We have a number of people who need support in the how, specifically in the how to implement inclusion, how to support newcomers, how to navigate conflict, and how to support each other. As we look forward to learning about what our system of well-resourced schools will be. 

We will be listening, not for the performative language, but for the mechanics of how this will be done for clarity around how our principles will be supported, how our teachers will be supported, and most critically how our students will be supported. We are asking that when you tell us about our system of well-resourced school, you start by centering our children by describing the diversity within our community of learners and that everything clearly be brought back and centered on how our students will be experiencing our system. Thank you. 

[00:21:19] Jane Tunks Demel: And that concludes this episode. If you like the podcast, you can support us by donating at, subscribing, or reviewing us on your podcast app.

[00:21:30] Christie Robertson: You can also email us tips and ideas at I'm Christie Robertson.

[00:21:37] Jane Tunks Demel: And I'm Jane Tunks Demel. We'll be back with more episodes soon, and we hope you'll join us next time on Seattle Hall Pass.