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What parents would change about their kids’ public schools

Seattle's Garfield High School. Credit: Photo: Alex Garland

More money. That’s what Yarek Rivers would like to see change in Seattle Public Schools.

“It’s a paramount duty according to the court and the Legislature is falling down flat,” said Rivers, who is the co-president of Greenwood Elementary’s PTA. “Our class sizes are too big and our schools are busting at the seams. We had teachers coming to us literally begging the other week to buy books. It’s shameful.”

He’s one of the many parents across Seattle Crosscut talked to as part of the kickoff to our Community Idea Lab on the K-12 education system. We asked the same question of all of them: “What’s the greatest area of change you’d like to see in your child’s school?” The answers ranged from the practical (“Buy more age-appropriate books for my child’s classroom”) to the broad-reaching (“More money for schools”).

The feedback we got will help decide our final question that we’ll put back to you to find an innovative solution. (Read more about the Community Idea Lab here.)

There were some common themes. Many parents said they would like to see smaller class sizes, which was the goal of a tenuously successful ballot initiative this fall. Many, like Rivers, called for more money for schools. Others called for longer lunches, more physical activity and more of a focus on foreign languages.

Here are some of the answers that we got. Some have been edited for length.

“Seattle Schools administration has a history of making poor decisions. They have been noted as being an impediment to the success of our students, teachers, and parents. This culture needs to change asap. SPS is the laughing stock of our state's education system. I'm sure they are overworked and underpaid like many of us, but more successful outcomes can be accomplished. The School Board also seems clueless, misguided, and disconnected. Seattle has two school systems to some degree, the one that is working, like in NW Seattle where I live, and the one that is not working (areas of poverty, english second language learners). This is a tough situation, but this needs to be successful and well thought out.”

— parent of a second grader and a seventh grader

“Acceptance of mediocrity is the biggest problem in our school. Our elementary school is fixated on the lowest common denominator, spending lots of time accommodating the slowest and least interested students. There's apparently no interest in supporting the middle or higher achieving students. So if you want your kid to learn math at or above grade level, you have to teach them yourselves.”

— parent of a 10 year old at Bryant Elementary

“No one has to be told they have to fail for years before getting needed changes and supports. There's no requirement to fit a certain profile to access help. Questions welcomed. Always. No "I'm sorry, I don't have time, we need to move on." Instead, "I can't answer that now, but here's who to talk to and when." By the way, I'm talking about tiered supports for social, emotional and academic development. It's all mixed together in kids brains, and we need to address them together.”

— Ramona Hattendorf, parent of a 13 year old and 15 year old who attend McClure Middle School and Ballard High School

“Better quality teachers, with low performers being counseled or mentored and released if they continue low performance.  Layoffs by merit, not seniority. Let’s keep the good teachers!”

— parent of a 14 year old and a 17 year old

“My third grader will take the Amplify [test] three times this year and the SBAC (the state test) once. Currently there are no scheduled cultural field trips and I do not foresee any in the future. He has not had any social studies classes in the four years he has attended Roxhill elementary and science is very spotty. His day is spent in reading, writing and math. That's it, period. It is discouraging for him and for me. It is not much better for my first grader.

I am saddened to think of my four year old heading off to kindergarten and being subjected to this type of education after having had very developmentally appropriate experiences in pre-school. Today my eight year old still says his pre-school teacher was the best and he wishes he could go back to pre-school. He doesn't say this because the curriculum is too difficult for him now, but because in pre-school he was able to learn through exploration and social learning. Now he sits and stares.”

—parent of an eight and six year-old at Roxhill Elementary

“I would like the general education and special ed teacher to follow my son's IEP as written. I would like his teacher to not hand him crayons and pens to keep my son busy so as not to disrupt the rest of the class but instead give him the help he needs to follow the lessons and learn. He is constantly being yelled at and punished for things he has no idea why. He should be getting the right kind of support for his needs.”

— parent of a nine year old at John Muir Elementary

“I would like to see more opportunity and consistency for teachers to develop themselves. Greenwood has exceptional teachers but I think all teachers benefit from being students.”

— Laurel Glidewell, parent of a fourth grader at Greenwood Elementary

“Education to be best on developmental needs of children as whole human beings: physically, emotionally, socially, mentally, creatively and intellectually.  Common Core and testing is driving Seattle schools to focus almost solely on academics, and pushing them to higher levels before mastering the fundamentals.

Everything is too intense, too rushed, too crammed. After a long intense day, children from kindergarten on have substantial homework that cuts into free play time or family time or other pursuits. I'd like Seattle Public Schools to be more child-centered, rather than adult-centered. I think resources need to go toward training and supporting excellent teachers, and that they should be entrusted with curriculum development and teacher/class specific assessments that they can use for bettering their craft. Give control back to teachers and make sure they are equipped.”

— Jana Robbins, parent of a student at Leschi Elementary

“Their special education professionalism and knowledge and practices are primitive but due to decentralized control of special education, where the principal, however ignorant, has ultimate authority, the building can basically do whatever they please. Their general education and special education teachers have no idea the standard of practice that is "typical". They do not follow the law. They shun inputs from professionals to improve what they are doing. They are apathetic about the outcomes of students with disabilities on standardized tests. They feel put upon when the parent reminds them about a simple accommodation that is already on the IEP.

On standardized tests, if a parent opts the student out because the student cannot meaningfully demonstrate what he knows due to skill deficits affecting the ability to move stepwise through questions and patience required to give answers, the parent is accused of having no school spirit, of putting the child before the school "after all we've done for you."

This is Seattle Public Schools in 2014.”

— parent of a middle schooler who formerly attended McGilvra Elementary

Do you have thoughts on what you’d change about your child's school? Tell us below in the comments.

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