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

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.

Ashley Gross / KNKX

Marina Gray says her 11-year-old son has fallen into a pandemic pattern.

Like many kids his age, he plays the video game Fortnite with his friends. Back in the pre-coronavirus days, Gray had strict screen-time limits, but now she’s relaxed those restrictions because the game allows him to stay social while also staying safe from the virus.

Ashley Gross / KNKX

School districts are moving forward with the huge task of reinventing school during a pandemic. Now, the state has issued guidance to help with one important part — how to serve students in special education.

Across the state more than 160,000 students receive special education services, and the abrupt switch to remote learning in the spring caused a lot of upheaval for those families.

In this file photo from April 2019, Sarah King-Scott demonstrated how she logs on to her Insight School of Washington account to attend online high school.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

When her children’s school switched to distance learning in the spring, Dana Rosenberg found herself trying to sort through a pile of emails from teachers and keeping track of multiple website logins. And she was disappointed in how little live online instruction her kids received.

Now a new school year is set to begin and the Kent School District, where her kids have been enrolled, plans to begin with remote learning due to the pandemic. Rosenberg has chosen a different option for her son, who’s entering sixth grade.

Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

This story originally aired on November 9, 2019.  

Back in 1988, the Seattle school district had a problem on its hands. Black third graders were underperforming their white classmates in reading by 29 percentage points. It was a glaring disparity, and it was getting attention. 

That’s the year that Keisha Scarlett started at Garfield High School in Seattle. Today Keisha is still at Seattle Public Schools, and so is the disparity — in fact, the gap has gotten even bigger. 

courtesy of Alayshia Baggett

When Alayshia Baggett, an 18-year-old from Tacoma, saw the video of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, she said she felt a lot of anxiety.

“I was going back and forth through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, just refreshing, refreshing,” she said. “Because things were just popping off.”

In this Wednesday, April 8, 2020 photo, Colin Powers, 9, streams a math lesson broadcast by public television on a laptop at his home in Union, N.J.
Seth Wenig / The Associated Press (file)

Tacoma Public Schools, like many districts, will begin the year with remote learning due to the pandemic.

But some elementary students — possibly thousands — will not get computers for months.

Jay Chohan's 13-year-old daughter, who is deaf, made a list of pros and cons of remote learning.
Courtesy of Jay Chohan

Parents of children with disabilities in the Puget Sound region say they’re very concerned about the school year to come, as many school districts announce that they’ll begin with remote instruction.

Adrian Florez / KNKX

Some big school districts in King County say they plan to start the school year off virtually instead of in person. Those districts include Seattle, Bellevue, Renton and Highline.

Damian Dovarganes / AP Photo

 UPDATE, 7:02 pm: Adds information about other UW researchers contributing to the project.

The pandemic is having profound effects on children, with everything from school disruptions to limited opportunities to play with other kids.

Economic insecurity is also taking a toll, and that’s the focus of two University of Washington researchers.

Senate Television / Associated Press

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown the child care industry into turmoil nationally and in Washington state. Many providers lost clients as parents shifted to working from home or got laid off.

Joe Wolf / Flickr

UPDATE, 9:10 pm: Adds information about school board directors' proposal that incorporates outdoor education.

As the clock ticks down toward the fall school year, the teachers union in Seattle said it’s not yet safe to return to school buildings, and three school board directors proposed a model of remote instruction with some outdoor education.

courtesy of Lian Koeppel

The virus that has swept our country crushed the dreams of a lot of high school seniors.

Lian Koeppel, an 18-year-old from Richland, had been picturing since middle school the beautiful long red gown she’d wear to her senior prom. And she pushed herself through high school with her heart set on being valedictorian, standing up on stage to give her speech to all her classmates, family members and teachers.

UPDATE, July 21: Updates to say the district has dropped its plan to offer full-time, in-person instruction.  

Bellevue School District leaders said they no longer plan to offer 100 percent in-person instruction for all students in the fall because of the recent rise in COVID-19 cases in the region. 

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson
Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press (file)

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the Trump administration’s proposed rule for international students “harms nearly every Washington state higher education institution” and he’s suing to block it.

The rule would revoke visas for international students who attend U.S. universities or colleges and only enroll in online classes.

Highline Superintendent Susan Enfield (file photo)
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

School districts in Washington state are trying to figure out how to safely bring students back to school for at least some in-person instruction in the fall, given the risks of the coronavirus pandemic and public health requirements.

At the same time, they face pressure all the way from the White House. President Donald Trump has threatened to withhold federal funds from districts that do not bring all students back for full-time, in-person instruction.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

The Interfraternity Council at the University of Washington said as of Monday, 146 people living in fraternities have tested positive for COVID-19.

The university conducts its own testing and verification of cases and said “at least 128 fraternity house residents” had tested positive, and another nine UW students who were close contacts of the residents had tested positive.

The Seattle school district is starting remote summer school this week and six times as many students are taking part compared with prior years. Even as the focus shifts to what school will look like in the fall, families are still processing the unprecedented school year that just ended and what it meant to abruptly shift to online schooling.

courtesy of Seattle Housing Authority

Teens and young adults who live in Seattle Housing Authority communities have built an online social hub for their peers. It’s meant to help young people navigate life in the pandemic.

Roosevelt High School in Seattle
Ashley Gross / KNKX

Seattle Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, said the model that makes the most sense for the fall is a hybrid of in-person and remote learning given public health requirements to control the coronavirus pandemic.

But that will place a burden on families that have already spent months with children at home due to school closures.