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Students in the Highline district push for youth to be part of teacher hiring committees

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
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.

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.

“A lot of us are seniors and it just kind of felt like the right time to get it going before we leave so we can leave behind a legacy for other students coming in,” said Jordyn Famimiko, who is 17 years old and attends Raisbeck Aviation High School in Tukwila. She’s president of her school’s Black Student Union and one of the students involved in the new group Highline Youth Race and Equity Coalition.

Jordyn said it’s critically important to get a more diverse teaching staff. Eighty percent of students in the Highline district are youth of color. But people of color make up only 25 percent of the teaching staff. Across Washington, youth of color are about 47 percent of the student population, and people of color comprise 13 percent of teaching staff.

“I feel like students on every level need to feel safe, they need to feel valuable,” she said. “It’s not to say that minority students can’t connect with their white teachers, however, just right off the bat there is some disconnect there culturally.”

Mary Belay, 17, is entering her senior year at Mount Rainier High School in Des Moines and is an officer in her school’s Black Student Union. She helped contact BSUs at other schools to form the student coalition and initiate a districtwide discussion about their experiences as students of color.

The new student group met recently with Superintendent Susan Enfield. Highline does have a policy that calls for “hiring teams to reflect the diversity of our schools and community.”

Mary said to put that into practice, the district needs to include youth representation. And she said she’s seen a lot of support from her peers, and even alumni, inspired by the summer of protests.

“Being Black in America, you definitely have seen these issues your entire life, but all of a sudden it blew up to this point where not only did I see it but everyone around me is also starting to join in on this movement,” she said.

Highline district spokesperson Catherine Carbone Rogers said in an email that the district has included students on hiring teams for principals. The district is now considering ways to give students a role in the teacher hiring process, though it may be difficult to include students in interviews of candidates because those decisions often happen quickly and teachers of color are in high demand.

She said Highline has made progress in diversifying its teaching and administrative staff. Five years ago, 14 percent of the teaching staff and 21 percent of administrators were people of color. Those numbers have grown to 25 percent of teachers and 32 percent of administrators. But she acknowledged the district still has a long way to go before the teaching workforce reflects the demographics of the student population.

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.