Friday, January 29, 2010

Rainier Beach Coalition Town Hall

Last night, community residents of the Rainier Beach area packed Southlake High School for the annual Town Hall. This event was hosted by the Rainier Beach Community Empowerment Coalition. Under the leadership of Mr. Gregory Davis, a local resident, the coalition has been instrumental in strengthening a sense of community and advocacy throughout the neighborhood.

The evening was filled with food, a dynamic arts presentation, awards ceremony, outlining of Coalition priorities and project activities, and facilitated breakout groups. Special guests included Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith, City Councilmember Sally Clark, and Seattle School Board Director Betty Patu, along with over a hundred youth and families.

I had the distinct pleasure of facilitating the education breakout session in partnership with Dawn Bennett, African American Family and Community Engagement Liaison for Seattle Public Schools. Our group included current Rainier Beach High School students, community based organizations, educators, parents, and senior citizens. During this rich dialogue, we explored timely issues such as the South East Initiative, strategies to increase accountability for academic achievement, early education, mentoring, environmental education, and civic engagement.

It was truly inspiring to hear the thoughtful concerns and ideas of our youth and community advocates. They clearly identified a vision and need for quality education in the southeast community. There are some elements of great programs and practice, but more consistent resources are needed across all schools. Our participants addressed key issues such as teacher quality and the need for schools to become the hub of our community; a place that provides full academic and social support for students. The principal of Rainier Beach High School, Dr. Robert Gary, specifically stressed the need for the community to mobilize around our schools and for all residents to play an active role in the support of our students, staff, and families.

Other breakout sessions explored issues of public safety, transportation, environment, economic development, and youth and families.

It is clear that great community building is happening in the southeast, but we all have a responsibility to contribute to the success of this prosperous neighborhood.

For more information on the RB Coalition, please click on the attached link

-Solynn McCurdy, AFE

Friday, January 22, 2010

Reflections on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Given that this past Monday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and from all the scenes we have seen in the wake of the tragedy in Haiti, I think it is worth mentioning some thoughts around the Alliance’s programs in the context of social justice and equity. All of our programs, whether it be continuing our work in community schools and community engagement, increasing college access and readiness for all students, ensuring the quality of all teachers in Seattle Public Schools, or our educational investments, have a significant impact on those students that are economically and socially disadvantaged. In much of our work, and in many of the grants we manage, our target population includes students of color and low-income communities.

We at the Alliance believe education is a fundamental right for each child in our community. At our recent Board meeting this past Tuesday, Dr. Goodloe- Johnson and Seattle Board President Michael Debell talked about the school district’s and state’s significant budget shortfall in light of the grim economic landscape we face. It is no secret that we are in tough financial times, but those who bear the worst of the impact will not have the necessary resources or skills to compete in our new economic landscape.

That is why the Alliance and the entire community need to redouble our efforts to help the school district adequately serve these communities. Whether it is providing more resources to counselors to help students get into college, or continuing a much needed discussion on teacher quality, or helping raising more money for the District so that it will ease some of the painful cuts they have to make; these efforts will go a long way in helping students excel toward a pathway of opportunity.

As Dr. King said, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically... Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education.” Isn’t that the type of education we would like to impart on all children in the District?

- Mark Yango, AFE

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Community Schools Work

Here's a quick update on our work.

As I mentioned in a previous post, we are working with community partners and SPS staff to explore the potential of a Community Schools initiative here in Seattle. There are already two schools within SPS that are recipients of a federal grant to implement a community schools model, and the leaders of those programs are closely involved in our work of looking at this on a larger scale.

I mentioned previously how many resources we have in our city, and although there are some exceptions, most are not delivered in a coordinated structure. Last year we did an initial piece of work, identifying approximately 300 providers. We surveyed those and about 50% responded and shared where they are in schools across Seattle. The results of that survey were not comprehensive, but showed a lot of resources for students. You can find that information here:

We are building on that previous work and have now identified upwards of 500 potential service providers for students in SPS. A new survey has gone out and we will follow up in a variety of ways to put together as comprehensive of a picture as we can.

Over the next couple months we'll share this on our Web site and through community partners. Stay tuned...


Monday, January 4, 2010

2010 - The year to come

Happy New Year!

As we leave behind the first decade of the 21st Century it's a great time to reflect and think big about what lies ahead.

The end of this first decade came much faster than I anticipated. I wonder how we would score ourselves over the past decade? Let me know what you think, but I feel as if we've been caught at the end of the race without really reaching our full running potential.

In some ways we've done very well, and in other areas we've struggled. And in education you can see examples of how we've done both. We can easily find challenges we have not met, such as the achievement gap. And we can also find great examples of where classrooms across the city are building a love of learning in their students.

So how do we keep moving in the direction of all students succeeding? At the Alliance we are continuing along a path that we've carved out over the past few years which prioritizes working on sustainable programs that will result in equitable support for all students in all schools (equitable does not mean "the same").

Our programs include community schools, teaching quality, college access and success, and engaging all communities in support of students. Our work in these areas is progressing steadily, and we are enjoying the potential that we see in our work, and the work of many other individuals and organizations.

For the community schools initiative we are currently working on two areas of research and outreach. Primarily we are working to get a handle on what services exist for students in Seattle Public Schools, and find out where they are located. Last year we conducted a survey of community based organizations, sending to roughly 300 organizations. We received 147 responses, giving the first real glimpse at what organizations are serving students in our schools. This next level of research adds additional organizations to the original list, and updates the information through a variety of channels including survey, school information, and outreach to the organizations.

This work will also feed into the college access initiative as we better understand the resources available to students. There are many programs providing mentoring, financial assistance, course planning and other support to keep kids on track to be able to choose whichever post-secondary educational opportunities they desire.

Education is an incredibly complex topic. Let's start with the fact that we're dealing with children, the single most important thing in a parent or family's life. And let's compound that by the fact that most of us have been through school with widely varying experiences. Those two things alone make it difficult to start a conversation from the same place. Then add a lot of economic and racial diversity, and we've got a complex mix of ideology, culture, opinion, and reality.

But the bottom line is, we all care about the kids. Let's start the New Year in that place, thinking about what we share. Happy New Year to you all and I look forward to working with you in the coming year.


(Isn't it amazing to think that there are young people out there who have no idea what Y2K means?)