At one Seattle elementary school, the school year kicked off with local officials high-fiving kids as they walked down a red carpet. The school, West Seattle Elementary, is one of 13 slated to receive extra attention this year with the district's new strategic plan.
This was the fourth year that West Seattle Elementary hosted its “Be There Rally” as a way to start the school year off with a flourish. This year’s celebration included a DJ — playing hits from Earth, Wind and Fire as well as Pharrell Williams — and appearances by local politicians, such as Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Seattle City Council member Lisa Herbold. It even included a visit by the Seattle Police Department’s pony, Lil’ Sebastian.
The school's population is more than 90 percent students of color. Eighty-seven percent of students come from low-income families. The school draws from a nearby Seattle Housing Authority community where a number of Somali immigrants live.
Superintendent Denise Juneau said this first-day fanfare helps make the school warm and welcoming, which is one of the goals outlined in her new strategic plan. Another emphasis of the plan is to prioritize the needs of students of color, in particular, African-American males, with third-grade literacy as a key benchmark.
“We’re going to really make some bold moves and we’re really going to support these schools in their efforts to make sure all their students are reading by the end of third grade,” Juneau said.
That's a high bar the district has set. As of 2018, 1 in 3 third-graders was not reading at grade level.
But the district has some city property tax dollars to help reach those goals. Last November, Seattle voters approved the seven-year, $619 million Families, Education, Preschool and Promise levy to pay for an expanded preschool program, investments in K-12 programs and free tuition for Seattle Public Schools graduates at the city’s community colleges.
West Seattle Elementary School is one of the schools that receive funds from the city; this year the school will receive about $320,000. Last year, the school used levy dollars for such things as after-school tutoring and small group instruction for kids who needed more help.
Durkan said one big aim of the city’s levy is to make sure that Seattle students are better prepared to enter the workforce.
“If you look at what’s happening in the economy right now, the majority of jobs being created really need people to have a good, solid foundation in education, and particularly post-high school education, but many of our kids aren’t getting that,” Durkan said.
This is the first year that all high school seniors in the district will qualify for two years’ of tuition at Seattle colleges through the Seattle Promise program.