Category Archives: Legislative & Advocacy

Letter Regarding School Re-Opening

At last Thursday’s GH community meeting, kinder and grade one families spoke about SPS’s plan to re-open school buildings for Pre-K, K, 1st grade, and some Special Ed students. Our Legislative Chair, Victoria Bhegani, wrote the following letter to Superintendent Juneau and Director Harris about key concerns raised at that meeting. 

Dear Superintendent Juneau,

Thank you for the work you have done in our District during this tumultuous time. I am sure neither you nor the School Board took the decision to re-open school buildings to some SPS students on March 1 lightly. I imagine you are hearing feedback about this decision from families in our District. This is such a letter. 

I am writing as the Genesee Hill Elementary PTA’s Legislative Chair on the behalf of our school’s kinder and grade 1 families. Last night our administration and PTA organized a community meeting where these families came together to share thoughts on the subject of school building re-openings. In my role I took notes and am sharing the most commonly expressed concerns with you in the hope that this can inform your decision making in the coming weeks. 

Our parents listed three main concerns in school building re-openings. The first is that students’ classes will be broken up and some teacher assignments will change. A number of parents said they would like to make their choice on whether or not to return their children to school buildings based on whether or not their child can stay with the same teacher. However, because this information is not available to them, they are finding that making this choice by Sunday is challenging. Second, they are worried about safety, safety protocols and the expected disruption that COVID-19 cases will bring. Third, they are worried about the binding nature of Sunday’s survey, whereby they will be locked in to the decision that they make as opposed to having the flexibility to change it in a month’s time. If COVID-19 cases in our region rise, for example, parents who have committed to sending their children back to school for in-person learning will not be able to switch to remote under the current guidelines. 

I hope this letter has given you some insight into our school community’s perspectives. I’ve also included a word cloud made up of the questions of more than seventy families that participated in our discussion. I would like to add that despite the many grey areas right now, the community meeting we had was a positive one. Our principal Gerrit Kischner and vice-principal Elizabeth Dunn have shown excellent leadership at our school during the pandemic, as have our co-PTA presidents. This was very much in evidence last night. Our best thoughts are with you in the months of planning that lie ahead.

Sincerely,

Victoria Bhegani

Legislative Chair, Genesee Hill Elementary PTA 

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WSPTA Legislative Assembly Recap

Washington State PTA Legislative Assembly Recap: Why We PTA, Top 5 Issues, and Formation of Advocacy Committee 

by Victoria Bhegani, Legislative Chair

Despite its virtual format, the energy at the WSPTA Legislative Assembly this past weekend was palpable. Three delegates from the Genesee Hill PTA, Leigh Ann Johnson, Christy Kinskey and myself, attended, and with other delegates from across Washington state, we voted on legislative issues, resolutions, amendments, and principles. 

In this time of pandemic, political unrest, economic hardship and remote learning, our collective voice as PTA has arguably never been more important. The topics we debated and voted on at the Assembly, like climate change mitigation, anti-racism, and the prevention of gun violence and suicide, reflected this urgency. Equity concerns were at the forefront too, with a resolution to equitably identify highly capable students and another to better fund services for students with disabilities. And with Washington facing a state budget shortfall of 4.4 billion dollars in the coming year, the resolution to preserve education funding felt critical and necessary.  

In every even-numbered year, such as 2020, the WSPTA votes in 5 top legislative issues that will make up its short-term platform. Over the next two years it will focus on these issues in the legislature. The voting to select these issues is done by delegates, all of whom represent WA PTAs. Christy, Leigh Ann and I were grateful to be guided in our voting by the survey results from GH family respondents. In the survey, families were asked to choose the five issues they felt were most important to address over the next two years. 

These are the results from the 42 surveys we received for GH respondents:  

  1. Increase Access to Nursing, Mental Health and SEL staff 
  2. Supports and Funding for Students with Disabilities and their Families 
  3. Support Students and Preserve Education Funding 
  4. Equitable Identification of Highly Capable Students
  5. Prevent and Reduce Gun Violence and Suicide 

Here are the Top 5 issues PTA delegates voted in at WSPTA Assembly:

  1. Increase Access to Nursing, Mental Health and SEL staff 
  2. Support Students and Preserve Education Funding 
  3. Increase Educational Equity by Closing the Digital Divide 
  4. Supports and Funding for Students with Disabilities and their Families 
  5. Prevent and Reduce Gun Violence and Suicide 

The increasing access to nursing and SEL staff resolution received the most votes from both our school and at the Assembly, and it came from none other than our neighboring school, Alki Elementary! To learn about the inspiring process of how their advocacy committee got this proposal in the mix, read this article from the Alki PTA Blog

Now that the Assembly has wrapped up, the question we’re confronted with is: What work do we do to advocate for our schools and our students, moving forward? The legislative season will begin mid-December and in the coming months, one thing PTAs are going to be asked to do is collect and tell the stories that are unfolding at our schools. The stories we will especially interested in are the ones that show how the issues we voted on shape things on the ground. For example, we might look for narratives about how children at Genesee Hill are experiencing remote learning. Or we might want to tell the story of how children at our school access mental health and how this is funded. 

To begin this work and to prepare for other actions for the legislative season, I am forming an Advocacy Committee at our school. If you would like to be part of it (please, please!) email me at legislativechair@geneseehillpta.org We will hold a meeting in the coming month and even if you are only interested in being on an email list, please still contact me. I hope to hear from you! 

Appendix: Genesee Hill Elementary Survey Results

Section 1- Issues (Ranked by %favorable)

Mean Score%Favorable Issue
4.595%   ISSUE #2. Increase Access to Nursing, Mental Health, and Social Emotional Learning Staff
4.388%   ISSUE #1.  Safe School Plans and Emergency Preparedness
4.3886%   ISSUE #7. Support Students and Preserve Education Funding
4.383%   ISSUE #4. Prevent and Reduce Gun Violence and Suicide
4.2681%   ISSUE #6. Supports and Funding for Students with Disabilities and Their Families
4.0576%   ISSUE #8. Increasing Educational Equity by Closing the Digital Divide
3.971%   ISSUE #3. Equitable Identification and Services for Highly Capable Students
3.971%   ISSUE #5. Mitigating the Adverse Impacts of Climate Change

Section 2 – Top Five, listed above in body of post
Section 3 – Legislative Principles

Mean
Score
%Favorable   Issue
4.2142857186%   Anti-racism, anti-discrimination, anti-oppression

Section 4 – Resolutions for Consideration (ranked by %Favorable)

Mean Score%FavorableIssue
4.697%Resolution #4. Social Emotional Learning and Student Success
4.489%Resolution #3. Equitable Access to Recess, Play, Unstructured Time, and Physical Activity
4.3684%Resolution #6. Dismantling Institutional and Systemic Racism
4.0582%Resolution #8. Supporting K-12 Career and Technical Education
4.279%Resolution #5. Restorative Justice and Improving Student Outcomes
4.0574%Resolution #1. Cultural Access Programs and Expanded Learning Opportunities
4.274%Resolution #7. Improving Access and Outcomes in Special Education
4.0571%Resolution #2. School Nutrition, Breakfast and Lunch Policies
3.8970%Amended Resolution 11.28 Mitigating the Health Effects of Climate Change
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Make Sure Your Voice is Heard at the WSPTA Legislative Assembly

On October 24-25, PTA delegates and members from all over Washington state will join together virtually at the WSPTA Legislative Assembly. Delegates will choose the Top 5 WSPTA legislative priorities for the 2021 and 2022 legislative sessions, and also vote on resolutions and principles.

There are two ways anyone can participate:

  1. To help your three PTA delegates from Genesee Hill vote according to what priorities are important to you and your family, please fill out this survey by Oct. 9. The delegates want to hear from you!
  2. If you’d like to attend the assembly as a member, you can register here until Oct. 8 for $25. Be sure your PTA membership is up to date if you plan to attend. Only delegates can vote, but any PTA member can attend to listen in. Registration also gives you access to numerous classes on advocacy topics that start on Oct. 6.

If you have any questions, please email Victoria Bhegani, the PTA Legislative Chair, at legislativechair@geneseehillpta.org.

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How does the education system work here in Washington and how can families get involved with it?

 From Genesee Hill Legislative Chair, Victoria Bhegani

In these past weeks, with the reopening of schools, there has been a lot of buzz, and understandably some confusion, about just who makes up the policies and practices that shape our children’s education and who to speak to about what we want to advocate for our children. As the Legislative Chair for the GH PTA Board this school year, I am just beginning to dive into understanding how these processes work. They are complicated! So please bear with me as I give a brief overview of the what’s and who’s of this, and then wrap up with some suggestions on how to get involved and who to contact in case you do want to reach out.

In Washington State, K-12 education is shaped by a number of forces, including federal officials, the governor, city mayors, state board of education administrators, the state superintendent, state agencies, school board superintendents, school board directors, teachers’ unions and- particularly in these times of pandemic- public health officials. Some of the key players in this at the state level are the Washington State Board of Education (SBE) and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and at our regional level, the Seattle School District (SPS) and our local teachers’ union, the Seattle Education Association (SEA). In a very basic nutshell, education policies are often created by the SBE and the OSPI, who work closely together. School districts then must adhere to these policies, though there might be flexibility in how they do so. Policy implementation might also be changed by union negotiations.  

For example, with instructional hours, our state requires that students be in school for a minimum of 180 days of the school year and that elementary school students fulfill at least 1,000 instructional hours. In the re-opening of schools for 2020, the SBE has not changed these required hours. However, it has given school districts flexibility in how they implement them, be it through synchronous or asynchronous learning, or potentially outdoor learning. It’s not all up to the District though. Before school opened this fall, SPS also had to negotiate how these hours would be fulfilled with SEA.

As you can see, it’s complex. There are a number of pieces trying to move together to make something work, and in these times especially, what they’re trying to make work is no small thing. Our education system is trying to keep kids and staff safe this year, provide some security for vulnerable populations, keep staff employed, and engage our children in learning new things, all in the wildly different educational landscape of remote learning.  

It also bears noting that our state education system is underfunded, as was ruled in McCleary v. Washington in 2012. In the concluding remarks on the case the judge found, “State funding [for education] is not ample, it is not stable and it is not dependable.” While in 2017 the state introduced the “McCLeary Fix” to fulfill its paramount duty to fund education, despite good intentions, the education system continues to face funding shortfalls. These shortfalls affect how our system works at every level- districts struggle to meet their budgets and areas left especially vulnerable are special education, art education, teacher compensation and staffing for positions like nurses and school counselors. 

Further, in our regional politics, school board directors are unpaid. While Seattle city councilors receive a yearly average salary of $130,000 based on their hourly rate, and have up to four assistants working for them, our school board directors receive no salaries and have no paid staff to support their work. When you consider this landscape, it is not hard to wonder why processes do not work as well as they may. 

So what can you do about this?  

Get involved with the PTA

  • Join the Genesee Hill PTA. Your membership supports not only our school PTA but our state PTA. Stronger PTAs are PTAs that can better advocate for better schools and better school systems.
  • You can also learn about broader PTA initiatives by following the Seattle Special Education PTSA and the Seattle Council PTSA.
  • Give input about what should be the WA PTAs legislative priorities for the next two years by filling out this survey.

Advocate for adequate state funding

Give feedback about school re-openings this fall 

WA State

Seattle Region 

Parents, caregivers and families have a voice in all of this. If you want to see the school district acting with more innovation around how our students learn, you need to speak up and show up. So much of this depends on the legal understanding of responsibilities to our kids. Contacting your legislators and school and city council members, while acting in partnership with your PTA, is the best way for us to advocate for our children’s education. 

While these last six months have been challenging for Genesee Hill, many of our school families have been stepping up to engage. Our PTA Board has positions filled that sat empty for years and people are talking about public education and equity in ways many have never done before. Good things can come of this- things that help both our school and our public education system. Please contact me at legislativechair@geneseehillpta.org with any comments or questions you have or join me in a letter writing campaign to our legislators later this month. I’m rooting for our school staff who are navigating so much new territory and working hard to do the best for our kids. The advocacy work we do supports them, and I hope you’ll join me with it. 

References

  1. “Court’s Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law,” King County Superior Court, CONCLUSION, 2010-02-04, retrieved 2020-09-12
  2. McCleary v. Washington84362-7 (majority)(Washington Supreme Court 2012-01-05)
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BTA IV Levy – Vote on February 9th!

logoLevies are essential tools in raising the funds necessary to run our public school system here in Seattle. We encourage our membership to educate themselves regarding how the upcoming Levy – BTA IV will impact your child’s school. Learn more about this levy and how its funds will be utilized via the Schools First website: http://www.schoolsfirstseattle.org/.

If you’re a registered voter, you should have received your ballot. Make sure to vote by February 9!

VOTERS: make your vote count! Mail in your ballot postmarked by February 9th – or return your ballot in person to the following locations.

24-Hour Drop Box (closes at 8 p.m. on 2/9) 

King County Administration Building, 500 4th Avenue, Seattle, 98104

Drop Vans (Feb 6, 10-5, Feb 8, 10-5, Feb 9, 10-8)

West Seattle Stadium, 4432 35th Avenue SW, Seattle, 98126

White Center Greenbridge Library, 9720 8th Avenue SW, Seattle, 98106

 

 

 

 

 

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Show them what 29 looks like! – November 18 School Board Meeting

A community group of parents and educators has organized attendance at the next SPS Board Meeting scheduled for November 18, 4:15 p.m. @ the Stanford Center  (2445 3rd Ave S.) to keep the pressure on regarding cuts and class sizes – accountability – and keeping kids/schools as top priority (rather than central office raises, etc.)
There are two sign ups at the link below:
1. one to get 29 kids to the school board meeting (illustrating our current class sizes)
2. the second to get 12 parents/teachers to give 2 minute public testimony on the issue

 

Contact for questions: Holly Hughes (P1 parent) +1 206 660 7540

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Our Senators are coming to Renton!

PastedGraphic-1Join PTA’s, parents and education advocates at the Senate Education Committee’s “Listening Session” Monday, October 19 from 5 – 7PM at Puget Sound Educational Service District Main Office, 800 Oakesdale Ave SW, Renton, WA 98057. A panel of Senators want to hear from parents, students, teachers, and taxpayers on how the State can meet its constitutional paramount duty to fully fund education. Wear green or your neon P-is Great T-shirt! Bring green signs (not on sticks) or signs with green lettering. The only topic on the agenda is “State funding of basic education.”

If you cannot attend, please share your thoughts with the committee by mail:

The Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee 462 J.A. Cherberg Bldg, P.O. Box 40466, Olympia, WA 98504-0466

And/or email:

Steve.Litzow@leg.wa.gov, Bruce.Dammeier@leg.wa.gov, Rosemary.McAuliffe@leg.wa.gov, Andy.Billig@leg.wa.gov, Joe.Fain@leg.wa.gov, Andy.Hill@leg.wa.gov, mark.mullet@leg.wa.gov, Ann.Rivers@leg.wa.gov, Christine.Rolfes@leg.wa.gov, sharon.nelson@leg.wa.gov

*Sample Letter attached: Parent_Senate Commitee Letter

Visit their Facebook event for more details:

https://www.facebook.com/events/569884663163903/

 

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Come Support Our Teachers – May 19th

A reminder we have NO SCHOOL on Tuesday, May 19th as our teachers are protesting the lack of public education funding.  If you would like to participate and support our teachers in this march, you can read more information on the West Seattle Blog.

march rally

And for those who can’t march tomorrow, you can tell our legislators to fully fund basic education now by clicking here. The 30 day special session of the 2015 legislature ends in two weeks and your participation makes a difference for every child!

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Bell Times – Let Your Voice Be Heard

SPS and the Bell Times Analysis Task Force is collecting public input on proposed options at a community meeting Tuesday May 12, 7PM – 8:30PM at Chief Sealth High School Commons (2600 SW Thistle St). Can’t make the meeting but want to give feedback? Copy/Paste your choice in an email to neighbor2neighbor@seattleschools.org with the option you think serves all students in all grade levels the best. Deadline for Task Force emails is April 30. (Public Input period closes May 15.)

Select one:

#1: Start elementary school at 8:00/8:50AM, high school at 8:50AM, and middle school at 9:40AM

#2: Offer late start high school as an option: high school can start at 7:50 or8:40AM, middle school at 7:50AM, elementary school at 8:40/9:30AM

#3: Start high school at 7:50AM, middle school at 7:50AM and elementary school at 8:40/9:30AM (current bell times).

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