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With a new strategic plan in place, Seattle school district plans a marketing campaign

A research firm hired by the Seattle school district recently asked parents to weigh in on possible logos for the district's new strategic plan.
A research firm hired by the Seattle school district recently asked parents to weigh in on possible logos for the district's new strategic plan.

Denise Juneau just wrapped up her first year as superintendent of Seattle Public Schools and put a new strategic plan in place. The plan has an emphasis on racial equity and serving students who are "furthest from educational justice," with a particular emphasis on African-American males.

Now the school district has hired a Bellingham firm, Vega Nguyen Research, to come up with a slogan, logo and marketing materials for getting the message out.

One possible slogan the district is considering is "We Are Excellence: One City. One District. One Goal." Another option is “Seattle Excellence. Engage. Empower. Educate.” The research firm held focus groups to come up with possibilities and recently surveyed families for their input.

As a share of the school district's overall budget of more than $1 billion, the marketing effort is small — about $30,000. But Carri Campbell, the district’s communications chief, said it's justified because people need to understand the district's new priorities.

“It’s a bold plan because it’s asking everyone to focus on lifting up, supporting and fulfilling our commitment to students who we haven’t done well by in the past,” Campbell said.

For example, one goal set out in the plan is to increase the percentage of students of color reading at grade level by third grade. In the 2017-18 school year, 35 percent of African-American third-graders and 19 percent of Pacific Islander third-graders showed proficiency on the English language arts assessment.  

The district has been in budget-cutting mode and recently cut 16 school-based positions because of declining enrollment. It also laid off 14 employees at the central office and cut 11 vacant positions.

"In a time of budget scarcity, people are looking at how dollars are being spent, but this is such a critically important body of work," Campbell said. "It is our work — it's our road map for the next five years."

A librarian at Denny International Middle School, Jeff Treistman, expressed some concern that the marketing plan may be window dressing. He said the strategic plan sounds good, but he wants to see the district follow through.

He said it will take a lot to truly dismantle white supremacy in the school district. Treistman said he would like to see the district make a deeper commitment to ethnic studies in all of its schools and protect educators of color, who he said he’s seen get “smacked down” for advocating for racial equity.

Rooting out racism in schools “takes a radical restructuring,” he said. “It’s a huge undertaking.”

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.