Ashley Gross | KNKX

Ashley Gross

Youth and Education Reporter

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat.  She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.

She studied history at Brown University and earned a master's in international affairs at Columbia University. She grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She lives in West Seattle with her husband and two sons.

One of Ashley's most memorable moments in radio happened several years ago in Northwest Alaska: "I was visiting an alcohol and drug rehab program in the tiny village of Selawik. It helps Alaska Natives recover by helping them get back in touch with their subsistence lifestyle. It was spring, which meant the river was still frozen - barely. We went out on snowmachines to go ice-fishing, but late in the day, as we headed back, the river had melted to the consistency of a Slurpee. It was a harrowing ride and a good lesson in trust - I rode with my eyes closed, clinging for dear life to the woman driving. A week later, three people drowned trying to ride a snowmachine over that river, and that's when I realized just how dangerous life in rural Alaska can be."

Ways to Connect

Secondary students in the Lake Washington School District will continue with remote learning for the rest of the school year, the superintendent said this week.
Lake Washington School District

Some districts in the Puget Sound region say they will not be expanding in-person learning to all students this school year. That includes the Edmonds and Lake Washington districts.

Brent Jones
Courtesy of Seattle Public Schools

The Seattle school board has voted to hire Brent Jones, an assistant general manager at King County Metro, to be interim superintendent for one year starting July 1.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal
Rachel La Corte / The Associated Press

In a year of school disruptions due to the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Education said it wants students to take standardized tests as a way to measure the impact of COVID-19 on learning, but the department is giving states some flexibility.

Courtesy of Afua Kouyate

UPDATE, 2/24: Updates to reflect that the Seattle City Council passed a resolution endorsing the creative district proposal.  

The pandemic has left many arts organizations struggling as performances and in-person classes have been canceled.

In the Southeast Seattle neighborhood of Rainier Valley, arts and culture groups have banded together to envision a more vibrant future after this current health crisis. They want to win designation by the state as an official creative district. On Monday, the Seattle City Council voted unanimously to pass a resolution endorsing the idea.

Eleven-year-old Kamari Johnson, right, wants to go back to in-person school, but her mother, Jasmine Raelynn, is not so sure. She has worries about safety.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Kamari Johnson is 11 years old. She’s trying to make the best of remote school, including keeping up with orchestra class, which means playing violin at home by herself.

She remembers what it was like to play music together with other students as an ensemble, back in fifth grade, back before the coronavirus.

A screenshot of the King County presentation about property taxes.
King County

Arriving soon in the mailboxes of residential and commercial property owners: property tax bills. Most taxpayers will see an increase, especially those in some parts of south King County.

courtesy of TVW

It can be difficult for anyone who’s been incarcerated to readjust to life after getting out. A bill working its way through the Legislature would allow some young people in juvenile rehabilitation to serve part of their sentences in the community with the aim of facilitating a better transition.

A person wears a sticker after they were given the first of two doses of the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021, at a one-day vaccination clinic set up in an facility in Seattle and administered Virginia Mason Franciscan Health.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

Leaders with the state Department of Health say there are inequities in vaccine distribution based on race and ethnicity. According to a new report, Hispanic, Black and multiracial people have gotten vaccinated at low rates compared to their representation in the population.

Democratic Rep. Laurie Dolan from Olympia has sponsored a bill to stabilize school district budgets.
screenshot courtesy of TVW

Public school enrollment is down almost 4 percent statewide compared with last year. Many families decided not to enroll their kindergartners because of remote learning, and others have switched to private schools or home schooling.

Because state education funding is calculated based on the number of students, many districts are now facing budget deficits. State lawmakers are considering a bill to send more money to school districts that have seen a drop in enrollment during the pandemic.

Travis / Flickr

School district leaders, the statewide teachers union and other groups are urging lawmakers to address housing affordability for school employees.

Right now, state law allows school districts with fewer than 2,000 students to build teacher cottages and other employee housing. Sen. Jesse Salomon, a Democrat whose district includes Shoreline, Edmonds and northwest Seattle, has sponsored a bill that would expand that to all school districts. It advanced out of the Senate Committee on Early Learning and K-12 Education on Wednesday.

Juwaan Terry is an 18-year-old senior at Lincoln High School in Tacoma. He plays cornerback on the school's football team, which is starting its season Feb. 1.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

In an already very weird year, high school football in Tacoma is now set to begin less than a week before the Super Bowl – in February.

Fall sports that were delayed for months due to the pandemic have now been given the go-ahead to begin, with safety measures such as face masks. Those sports include volleyball, cross country, girls soccer, girls swim and golf, in addition to football.

courtesy of Sen. Brad Hawkins

Acknowledging the degree to which education has been disrupted during the pandemic, state lawmakers are discussing ways to help students catch up academically.

courtesy of Bellevue School District

The Bellevue School District will bring first-graders and kindergartners back for in-person learning in February, a couple of weeks later than originally planned.

The district had been in a standoff with the Bellevue Education Association, but the two sides have reached an agreement that was narrowly approved by union members.

courtesy of NPR

NPR’s Student Podcast Challenge is back for a third year in a row, and now is the time to get your entry submitted!

courtesy of Bellevue School District

Amid a dispute over the Bellevue School District’s expansion of in-person learning to young students, the district asked a King County Superior Court commissioner to issue a temporary injunction against its educators union to force them to resume both in-person and live online instruction.

courtesy of Bellevue School District

UPDATE, 4:12 pm: Adds information about the Sedro-Woolley School District.

Bellevue Superintendent Ivan Duran says the district will continue with its plan to welcome about 770 second-graders back for in-person learning on Thursday, even though teachers may not show up.

Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Roll out of bed, turn on your laptop, wander to the kitchen to get food during class – online school during a pandemic is pretty different from regular school.

And while some districts are in the process of bringing the youngest kids back to classrooms, the majority of older students will continue learning from home for the time being.

courtesy of Sen. Brad Hawkins

Republican and Democratic leaders of education committees in the Washington Legislature are urging Gov. Jay Inslee and the state Department of Health to change state vaccination guidance so that all school employees are prioritized to receive a coronavirus vaccine in February, instead of putting school employees over age 50 ahead of other school staff.

Courtesy of Northwest Maritime Center

Eighth-graders in Seattle and South King County trying to figure out where to go to high school will have a new option to consider.  A regional high school focused on marine science and maritime careers will open in the Highline school district in the fall.

Kindergarten students wear face masks as they do a movement exercise at the Osborn School, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020, in Rye, N.Y.
Mary Altaffer / The Associated Press

UPDATE, Jan. 6: Adds comments from a kindergartner, her mom and school principal.

Seeing your teacher, meeting your classmates, getting used to having your own desk and cubby – these are the exciting (and perhaps terrifying) rites of passage for kindergartners that normally happen in September. On Mercer Island, these rites of passage are instead happening now. The coronavirus pandemic is to blame for the delay.

A sign made with plastic cups that reads "We Miss You" decorates the fence of Lowell Elementary School in Tacoma on April 7, 2020.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

The frustration among families over remote learning has built up over months. Now some districts, including Mercer Island, Bellevue and Tacoma, are taking steps to bring the youngest students back for in-person school this month.

Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Author’s note: Since this story originally aired, Denny International Middle School has continued to be an important site for meal distribution in Seattle Public Schools. Denny serves about 700 meals per day, and overall, the district distributes 30,000 meals daily. During the winter break, the school district has shifted to providing one-week meal boxes to students, and Denny is one of two sites in West Seattle where those are being handed out. (This story originally aired April 30, 2020.)  

Washington State Department of Ecology

UPDATE, 6:26 pm: Adds comments from Whatcom County Sheriff and from a Washington Department of Ecology spokesperson.

BNSF Railway says seven train cars carrying crude oil derailed in the Custer area of Whatcom County just before noon on Tuesday. Two rail cars caught on fire, sending giant black plumes of smoke in the air, but authorities said no one was injured.

Penn State / Flickr

The stresses of the pandemic mean that public health officials are keeping a close eye on the rate of suicide. That includes among youth.

Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

UPDATE, Dec. 22: Corrects story to reflect that the Seattle school district recently approved one outdoor learning program serving four students.  

The risk of catching the coronavirus is lower outside than inside, and for that reason, a lot of people were hoping that public schools could mitigate risk by shifting instruction to the great outdoors.

In Seattle, despite a push in the summer to make that happen, most programs, except for one small pilot, are still not up and running. But in Whatcom County, dozens of kids in three school districts have been learning outside for months.

LM Otero / The Associated Press

Amid increasing pressure from parents to have schools offer more face-to-face instruction, Gov. Jay Inslee has released updated recommendations to school districts to encourage them to do that.

Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

How do you build school spirit when students are learning from home?

That’s been on the mind of 16-year-old Isaac Velazquez, a junior at Franklin Pierce High School in the Midland area of unincorporated Pierce County.

Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

UPDATE, 5:26 pm: Adds comment from Juneau and a member of the NAACP Youth Council.

Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau will not seek a contract renewal. Juneau, who has been in the position for two and a half years and is the district’s first Native American superintendent, said she will serve through June 2021.

AvgeekJoe / Flickr

New research from the University of Washington shows that for Black youth, having an encounter with police in middle school means a higher likelihood of being arrested by age 20.

Ted S. Warren / Associated Press

Gov. Jay Inslee and the president of the Washington Education Association had a meeting on Wednesday to talk about the process of reopening schools for in-person learning. But they disagree about the content of the conversation.