Community Idea Lab: The Final Five

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How can we make K-12 classrooms more student-focused, individualized and community-rooted? That's the question we asked all of you this winter through our Community Idea Lab, a new kind of community problem-solving journalism invented by Crosscut last spring.

It's a question you were obviously thinking about too. More than 70 of you submitted your ideas to our contest, making it our most fruitful Community Idea Lab yet. After much deliberation and a lot of hard choices, the Crosscut team narrowed that flood of ideas down to five. Those finalists will be presented tomorrow night, February 24th, at the Museum of History and Industry in South Lake Union.

Our esteemed panel of judges, including Lyon Terry, Washington’s 2015 Teacher of the Year; Elham Kazemi, UW Geda and Phil Condit Professor in Science & Math Education; Kim Mead, President of the Washington Education Association; and Chirag Vedullapalli, an 8th Grade Student at Chief Kanim Middle School, will give feedback on each idea.

Then it's your turn: Every audience member at Tuesday night's Community Idea Lab will have the opportunity to vote on the winner using their mobile phone.

Crosscut and MOHAI will be partnering to hook our winner up with the resources they need to get things going: Their idea plastered all over; a six-month part-time membership at Impact Hub Seattle; and meetings with education leaders, including John Mullin, CEO of Enlearn, Sara Morris, CEO & President of the Alliance for Education, Teri Hein, Executive Director of the Bureau of Fearless Ideas, Mary Jean Ryan, Executive Director of the Road Map Project, and Erin Okuno, Executive Director of the South East Seattle Education Coalition.

Most importantly, in the next six months, each idea finalist will have the chance to work one-on-one with a team of civic leaders assembled by MOHAI to help make their idea a reality.

So, without further ado, we present the finalists for Crosscut's second Community Idea Lab.

Students on the school board

Abi Gibson, Senior at Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences

The idea: A student advisory board that would shadow Seattle school board members, participate in discussions and decision-making, and provide student input on decisions.

"A number of other cities and states have student representation on the school board," Gibson says, pointing to Portland and Washington State's Board of Education.

Appointment to the board, which would have eight members — one for each region of the Seattle Public School district, would be application-based. Gibson foresees principals or teachers nominating students.

"If students had a say in the decisions being made, those decisions would fit the students better," Gibson says.

A place for teachers

Maggie Chumbley, Education Consultant

The idea: A central gathering place, where teachers could meet after school to discuss teaching tactics, share best practices, problem-solve or just catch up over a beer.

"It is a place where teachers can come together to learn about their work and do professional development in a way that's organic and low-tech and effective," explains Chumbley.

Don't teachers already spend every day together at school, catching up over coffee in the teacher's lounge? Chumbley, who spent five years as a high school teacher, says that idea is a myth; that large class sizes and long days mean most teachers miss out on the camaraderie and professional development that would help them become more effective at their jobs.

"Right now most teachers feel isolated in their work and aren't able to collaborate in the ways that we know help people learn about their work — collaboration, brainstorming, prototyping, reflection, research."

Language-representative classrooms

John Compton, Founder & Director of One City Project

The idea: A fellowship program to link schools in diverse neighborhoods with new teachers who speak Cantonese, Tagalog, Somali and Vietnamese. The program would offer scholarships for teaching certificates to candidates who already speak those languages as a way to provide

Why those four languages specifically? Compton says that those four, along with Spanish, are the top five most-spoken at home by Seattle public school students.

As of 2011, one in every five students didn't speak English at home, according to Compton. By 2025, he says, that number will be one in four.

"I've talked to a lot of principals," he says. "The vast majority of them get it. They want these languages in their schools, they want that representation of the community in their school, but the groundwork hasn't been laid yet and it's just too difficult to find the teachers for it."

Political organizers for schools

Noel Frame, Community Organizer

The Idea: Hire campaign organizers to recruit and coordinate volunteer efforts at schools. Managing volunteers well is an art and a science; a role that campaign organizers are trained to do extremely effectively to stretch shoestring budgets even further.

"While busy parents are volunteering as much as they can, about half of Seattle’s residents do not have kids in the public schools," Frame says. "When you consider Seattle is one of the 'Smartest Cities' in America, that’s a whole lot of human capital we’re missing out on!"

Frame, herself a 2012 candidate for the Washington State House and a former campaign staffer, has seen the multiplier effect of strong organizing firsthand. Hiring a volunteer coordinator in each school, she believes, would help alleviate some of the resource challenges facing our students and teachers while lawmakers work to comply with the McCleary mandate to fully fund our schools.

Civics 2.0

Brandon Lecoq, Sophomore at University of Washington

The Idea: A semester-long civics class for high school juniors and seniors that teaches an array of options for getting involved with the local social and political issues they feel are most important.

The class, which Lecoq would like to see tackle local issues selected by its students, could be piloted as an elective.

Lecoq imagines students identifying issues affecting their communities, like police brutality, immigration and unemployment, then learning the nuts and bolts of community organizing, the role of non-profits or social businesses, and the most effective ways to connect with their local representatives.

"The primary thing is to get students to vote," he says.

Which idea would you most like to see implemented?

To vote on the winner, join Crosscut and MOHAI for the Community Idea Lab, Tuesday, February 24th, from 6:30 - 8 p.m at MOHAI.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Berit Anderson

Berit Anderson

Berit Anderson was Managing Editor at Crosscut, following tech, culture, media and politics. She founded Crosscut's Community Idea Lab. Previously community manager of the Tribune Company’s Seattle blogging network, her work has also appeared in YES! Magazine and on the Huffington Post, Geekwire, and KBCS 91.3 radio. She served as Communications Director at Strategic News Service, a weekly newsletter that predicts global trends in tech and economics, and Future in Review, an annual tech conference which gathers C-level executives to solve global problems. Her weaknesses include outdoor adventure, bananas with peanut butter and big fluffy dogs.