The Seattle public school district has made it a high priority to eliminate achievement gaps between kids from different racial groups and socioeconomic backgrounds. It's a major issue for school board candidates, including including those vying for the seat representing District 7 in the southeastern part of Seattle.
Incumbent Betty Patu, who was born in American Samoa but grew up in Seattle and California, is seeking a third term on the school board. Before she became a school board director, she ran a dropout prevention program at Rainier Beach High School.
She points to Rainier Beach as a measure of success in the district. That school, where three quarters of kids qualify for free or reduced lunch, now has a graduation rate higher than the district-wide average.
But Patu said she wants to make sure international baccalaureate programs at Rainier Beach, Chief Sealth and Ingraham high schools get the funding they need.
“It’s on a year-to-year thing and I really would like to see permanent funding for those programs because they’re very important to the kids in these communities,” Patu said.
Her challenger, Chelsea Byers, is an executive at a technology education school for adults. She spent two years teaching middle-school math in Oakland, California, as part of the Teach for America program.
She said one reason she’s running for school board is to lift the performance of schools in Southeast Seattle. In District 7, more than three quarters of schools had test scores below the district average in the 2015-16 school year.
“It is possible for a low-income school to have high achievement, and I think we’re pretty complacent about that in the city overall, and that’s something that really needs to change,” Byers said.
Byers said she also wants to make sure children in Seattle get more computer science instruction because the city’s tech sector has so many open jobs.
As for the school board’s next big task, finding a new superintendent, Byers said it’s important to hire someone who’s a good communicator and who has experience closing achievement gaps.