From the first moment I visited Olympia as a high school student, I imagined raising my family here. Now my husband Cedrus and I are raising our three kids: John Paul, Amelia, and Carolyn on Olympia’s westside.
I grew up attending public school in Vancouver, Washington, and moved to Olympia to attend The Evergreen State College. Throughout my own time as a student I have had access to some of the most exciting and innovative public education our state has to offer.
I’ve spent my professional life in and around organizations that serve and support families and kids. One of my first jobs after college was at a community center in the supported housing neighborhood of Skyline Crest in Vancouver. My partner and I planned and led after-school enrichments, summer programs, field trips, open gym nights, and small groups. We worked closely with the schools to coordinate resources and keep tabs on struggling families.
Working in that neighborhood shaped my vision of equity. The families who lived in Skyline Crest were more likely to be stuck in generational poverty, more likely to be single parent households, and more likely to be people of color than the rest of Vancouver. The kids I worked with had enormous potential, but they had been systematically disadvantaged because of their income and race. We encouraged students to challenge themselves and apply for accelerated programs, magnet schools, and internships. Some students were wildly successful, but many of them still struggled, dropped out, or entered the criminal justice system. Our most successful efforts were rooted in trusting relationships, directed by students and families, and based on their hopes for their future – not the staff’s vision of success.
I felt and still feel a personal responsibility to mitigate my own privilege by actively working to level the playing field, but working in Skyline Crest taught me that individual and insular efforts will only ever be occasionally successful. To achieve real equity, we have to engage in the open and honest discussions that lay bare the truth, listen to each other, work in transparency and collaboration, and hold ourselves accountable.
As a teen program director for the YMCA and an admissions counselor for The Evergreen State College, I worked in and visited schools across the country. I saw first-hand the impact of funding cuts that started in the 90s and were exacerbated by No Child Left Behind. Activities and experiences that weren’t focused on improving reading and math test scores were cut. Non-profits and volunteers were left to try and make up for the loss of art, music, recess, social studies, science, and so much more. The schools that suffered the most were those with the most vulnerable students. Students like the ones I had worked with in Skyline Crest.
In my current position at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction I work with award-winning educators and schools. I have the opportunity to learn from some of the most talented educators in our state. Their stories have taught me that school systems make better decisions when educators, volunteers, and families are actively engaged and have opportunities to influence decision-making. As a volunteer and member of the parent council at my children’s school, I’ve seen first-hand the positive impact family and community involvement have on school culture. We need this kind of grassroots collaboration at the district level.
My energy and collaborative approach to leadership will help create a district that does more to connect with the community in meaningful ways and create a culture of openness and access. We must harness the expertise of educators, families, and community members to build a school system that instills a love for learning, gives every student access to the programs and supports that meet their unique needs, and puts students at the center of their own education.