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

Bellevue School District

Against the backdrop of protracted labor negotiations that have kept students in many school districts learning remotely for a year, Gov. Jay Inslee said he will issue an executive order next week on school reopening.

The order will require school districts to offer all K-12 students the option of attending school in a hybrid model of in-person and remote learning. Students from kindergarten through sixth grade must have that option by April 5, and all other students should have that opportunity by April 19, Inslee said.

Stations where COVID-19 vaccines will be administrated are shown set up at a mass vaccination site on Wednesday, March 10, 2021, at the Lumen Field Events Center in Seattle.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

King County residents who are eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine will have a new location to do so starting this weekend.

The city of Seattle is opening a mass vaccination site at Lumen Field, where the Seahawks and Sounders play. The site is a partnership of the city, Swedish Health Services and the company that operates the facility, First & Goal Inc.

Students sit outside during lunch at Perry G. Keithley Middle School. Seventh- and eighth-graders returned to in-person learning for the first time in almost a year on Monday.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

As the Seattle school district delays the date for bringing preschoolers and some students with disabilities back to classrooms to the end of this month, 40 miles to the south in Pierce County, seventh- and eighth-graders at Keithley Middle School in Parkland headed back to campus this week. They returned to classrooms for the first time in almost a year, following the return of sixth-graders last week.

Seattle Public Schools Instagram

It’s been a contentious couple of weeks, but the Seattle and Highline school districts have made progress toward bringing some students back to classrooms.

courtesy of Carol Venable

The pandemic has been an isolating experience for many of us. It’s even harder if you’re trying to start out in a new place and build a social circle.

That’s what 13-year-old Nascha Martinez faced when she moved here from Breckenridge, Colo., and began attending a brand-new school, West Sound Academy in Poulsbo, during a time of remote learning. She shared her story for KNKX’s Take the Mic youth voices project.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown visits the Marion County and Salem Health COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Salem, Ore., on Jan. 13, 2021.
Abigail Dollins / Statesman Journal

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown says she will issue an executive order to mandate that public schools provide in-person instruction.

Under her order, schools will be required to offer face-to-face learning for students up through fifth grade by the end of March and by mid-April for older students. Students who prefer to remain in online learning will have that option.

Adrian Florez / KNKX

In South King County, the Highline school board has voted to authorize possible legal action against its teachers union. It’s another example of escalating tensions around the region over the resumption of in-person instruction.

Ashley Gross / KNKX

On a recent day under a light drizzle, Alyssa Andrews and Anna Hester stood in a school parking lot in unincorporated Pierce County, going over their plans to visit families of middle-school students who haven’t been logging on to remote classes.

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 Amazon.com 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 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.)  

A train carrying crude oil derailed in Whatcom County on Dec. 22, 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.

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