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

Ashley Gross / KNKX

Washington state health officials are considering changing the guidance they give to school districts on when to offer in-person education, according to draft documents presented to Gov. Jay Inslee earlier this month.

screenshot of online class / courtesy of the Franklin Pierce School District

Being a teacher right now is not easy. Ryan Davenport had to buy a new Ikea chair because teaching online means sitting around a lot, and that makes his neck hurt. During a regular school year, he’s usually on his feet much of the day, moving around. 

Ryan teaches social studies to seventh-graders in the Franklin Pierce School District in Parkland. But even more than that discomfort, this school year of disruption means Ryan has a harder time making the connections with his students that normally bring him joy. KNKX is following one of his classes this year to illustrate what school is like in the middle of a pandemic. 

Jack McQuade, center, the owner of The Swiss Restaurant and Pub in Tacoma, Wash., walks behind his bar on Wednesday, April 29, 2020. The restaurant announced in September that it was closing permanently.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

The governor’s new ban on indoor dining in restaurants will mean a financial toll for many businesses, and it’s a particular blow for new restaurants. Gov. Jay Inslee announced the new restrictions on Sunday as coronavirus cases have hit a new peak in the state.

Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

For 14-year-old Sebastian Bush, time at home during the pandemic has had a certain smell: the scent of traditional Colombian cornmeal cakes known as arepas frying, and beef, rice and potato-filled, crescent-shaped pastries known as empanadas sizzling in oil.

It’s also had a certain sound: the sound of chatting with his grandmother, Elsa Forero, as they prepare the food of her childhood in Bogotá.

Sue Thompson / Flickr

Students who need help with their homework have options for free online tutoring through public libraries, including a new service from Seattle Public Library.

screenshot of State Board of Education virtual meeting

Most students in the state are still doing school remotely because of the pandemic. Some parents who are frustrated with distance learning are criticizing a move by the State Board of Education to allow the status quo to continue.

This summer, the state board passed emergency rules to allow schools to provide Zoom classes or other remote instruction in the pandemic. Now the board has adopted new emergency rules to continue that, with a plan to propose permanent rules and hold a public hearing in early January.

javacolleen / Flickr

It’s been eight weeks since the school year began, and Seattle Public Schools has just started offering in-person services for students in special education. One student started this week and the district plans to expand that to 65 children.

Gracie Anderson, a senior at Pacific Lutheran University, testified in support of the bill requiring comprehensive sexual health education to be taught in public schools.
Courtesy of TVW

The Nov. 3 election in Washington includes a referendum on a hot-button issue — whether the state should require sex education to be taught in public schools.

KNKX youth and education reporter Ashley Gross spoke with KNKX Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick about Referendum 90 and what opponents and supporters have to say.

UPDATE, 6 p.m.: Adds comments from a press conference held by Maia Espinoza in which she addressed how she'd pay for stipends to families during remote learning.  

The race for state superintendent of public instruction comes at a critical time for the state’s 1.1 million schoolchildren, most of whom are learning from home right now due to the pandemic. The incumbent, Chris Reykdal, and his challenger, Maia Espinoza, have different approaches to pandemic-era schooling.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement about the relief fund: “The pandemic continues to impact all aspects of life for Washingtonians, and we need to remain steadfast in our support of those bearing the greatest burden.”
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

Washington state’s $40 million COVID-19 relief fund for immigrants is open to applications. It’s intended to help undocumented workers who have been hurt financially in the pandemic.

Ashley Gross / KNKX

UPDATE, Oct. 29: Adds comments from a press conference with Superintendent Denise Juneau.

The Seattle-King County and Washington state NAACP say the Seattle school board should terminate Superintendent Denise Juneau’s contract, maintaining that she has not done enough to address systemic racism in the school district.

In this Jan. 5, 2012, photo, Susan Enfield, now superintendent of Highline Public Schools, spoke to reporters at the Capitol in Olympia.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press (file)

Voters in the Highline school district south of Seattle will be deciding whether to approve a two-year levy to pay for new computers and other technology. The shift to remote learning in the pandemic has highlighted the need.

The levy would collect a total of $32.5 million over two years. But the property tax rate would go down a little bit even if voters approve the measure. That’s because some general obligation bonds the district refinanced last year will be paid off next year and the district’s operations levy rate is set to decline a bit from this year to next.

Community groups in Skyway have come together to create a pop-up resource center to connect families with services ranging from rental assistance to learning materials for kids.
Courtesy of Renton Innovation Zone Partnership

People in Skyway, southeast of Seattle and one of King County’s most racially diverse areas, have long pushed for their own community center. Now there are signs they’re making progress.

During the pandemic, nonprofits and social service groups have come together for what they call a pop-up resource center in Skyway. They’re holding another event Friday, Oct. 16, outside the New Birth Ministries Church.

Alicia Ing graduated from Renton High School as part of the class of 2020 and is studying at the University of Washington. She's getting ready to vote in her first presidential election.
Adrian Florez / KNKX

“I went into high school the same year that Donald Trump was elected president, so it kind of bookended my high school experience.”

Alicia Ing graduated from Renton High School as part of the class of 2020 and is studying at the University of Washington. Now, four years after that election, Alicia is 18 years old and getting ready to vote in her first presidential election.

Before entering the school, students at Blue Heron Middle School in Port Townsend go through a screening process to prevent anyone who might show COVID-19 symptoms from entering.
Ashley Gross / KNKX

On a recent sunny fall morning, a school bus pulled up in front of Blue Heron Middle School in Port Townsend. A few kids got off, but before they could enter the school, they had to go through a new pandemic-era procedure.

The shift to remote learning in many districts across the state due to the pandemic appears to have prompted some families to abandon public schools — at least for now, according to preliminary data released by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Seattle Municipal Archives

In 1890, Seattle was a city of about 42,000 people trying to recover from a destructive fire the year before. That’s when a 21-year-old man from Kansas named George H. Bartell, Sr., bought a pharmacy in Seattle’s Central District and launched his eponymous company, Bartell Drugs.

courtesy of Sno-Isle TECH Skills Center

John Monroe grew up in Everett and landed a job as a draftsman with the Boeing Co. in 1965, with just a high school diploma and a nine-week drafting course under his belt.

Three students from Jason Lee Middle School presented their solar project idea to Gov. Jay Inslee in early 2019.
Courtesy of Generation 180

A student-led push to get solar panels installed at a middle school in Tacoma is receiving national recognition from a clean energy nonprofit called Generation 180. And while the girls involved have now moved on to high school, they’re continuing to advocate and fundraise for the project.

Ryan Davenport teaches seventh grade social studies at Keithley Middle School in Parkland. He's welcomed KNKX to follow one of his classes through this unprecedented year.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

At schools around the region, a new ritual has been taking place. It’s the back-to-school, COVID-era laptop distribution, as almost all public schools in the state have begun the year with remote learning.

Mila and Dempsey are students in Seattle Public Schools. Dempsey has cerebral palsy and receives assistance from an instructional aide as part of his individualized education program.
Courtesy of Daniela Hall

As school kicks off remotely in much of the Puget Sound region, one big question is what kind of in-person services will be offered to students with special needs. It’s a pressing topic for many parents, especially if their children require a full-time instructional aide.

courtesy of the Tahoma school district

School is about to start in much of the Puget Sound region and teachers unions are still bargaining with district leaders over working conditions. But some have reached agreements, including the Tahoma School District, which serves the area around Maple Valley in Southeast King County and has about 8,600 students.

Jordyn Famimiko (left) and Mary Belay are part of a new student group called the Highline Youth Race and Equity Coalition. The group wants students to have a say in teacher hiring committees.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

The protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis have sparked a surge of activism among high school students around issues of racial justice.

Students in Seattle, Tacoma, Bellevue and other districts in the Puget Sound region have pushed for police officers to be removed from schools. Now, a new student group in the Highline district, south of Seattle, wants youth to have a say in hiring educators.

courtesy of Kittitas school district

Only a handful of school districts in the state are aiming to hold school in person this fall. One of them is Kittitas School District in Central Washington, near Ellensburg.

Nutrition staff, bus drivers, paraprofessionals and volunteers load prepared meals onto school buses on the first day of Franklin Pierce Schools' meal distribution program.
Jovelle Tamayo for NPR

The Edmonds School District has issued layoff notices to 175 bus drivers, and other districts are warning that they may have to do the same thing.

Aimee Rodriguez Webb works on her computer reading emails at her dinning room table that she set up as a virtual classroom for a Cobb County school, on Tuesday, July 28, 2020, in Marietta, Ga.
Brynn Anderson / The Associated Press (file)

Because of the pandemic, the Washington state Supreme Court waived the bar exam for new lawyers who were supposed to take it this past July or in September. But new teachers still have to take an exam to get their teaching certificate, and now they’re asking the governor to eliminate that requirement.

Kids in masks work on homework at the Boys and Girls Club in Ballard.
Boys and Girls Clubs of King County

Parents in Western Washington – and in many parts of the country – are facing a school year like no other. Most districts here will begin with no in-person instruction, and for parents or guardians who work outside the home, that means a scramble to find some kind of child care.

And many will have to dig into their pockets to pay for care during the seven hours or so when children normally attend school.

courtesy of Adrienne Stuart

UPDATE, 1:15 pm: Adds response from the State Board of Education. 

A handful of parents are taking the state to court, arguing that students are being shortchanged a basic education during the pandemic.

The parents, who live in Tacoma, Normandy Park and Olympia and all have children with special needs, have filed a petition for judicial review in Thurston County Superior Court against the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education.

In this Friday, June 5, 2020 photo, fourth-grader Sammiayah Thompson, left, and her brother third-grader Nehemiah Thompson work outside in their yard on laptops provided by their school system for distant learning in Hartford, Conn.
Jessica Hill / The Associated Press (file)

The Federal Way school district is getting some assistance from a local crowdfunding platform to buy 5,000 laptops for students. It’s an example of the many ways school districts are trying to make sure children have what they need for remote learning.

Kent Superintendent Calvin Watts
Ashley Gross / KNKX

In a 3-2 vote, the Kent School Board has voted to extend the contract for Superintendent Calvin Watts, a move that comes amid some community controversy.