Eliminating Opportunity Gaps

STEM K-8 Families,

Seattle Public Schools (SPS) just made an ambitious commitment.  In the words of Superintendent Nyland: “Eliminating opportunity gaps and ensuring educational excellence for each and every student is the issue of our time.  While Seattle Public Schools outperforms like districts academically….We have the 5th largest academic achievement gap in the nation between black and white students. While we are making progress, we are also committed to doing better.”

Seattle Public Schools kicks off a new campaign to eliminate opportunity gaps called #CloseTheGaps this week. Seattle Education Association is promoting October 19 as a day of solidarity to bring focus to racial equity and affirming the lives of SPS students – specifically our students of color. In support of this focus, some staff will choose to wear Black Lives Matter t-shirts, stickers or other symbols of their commitment to students.

In tackling racism, Seattle Public Schools, Seattle Education Association, and STEM K-8 are not promoting Black Lives Matter as a political movement.  Our goal is to raise awareness about the struggle to address educational inequality in our country and school system. Staff wearing Black Lives Matter t-shirts are not saying that All Lives Don’t Matter.  They are making a statement about visible and violent racism in the treatment of African Americans in this country; one that aims to start conversations about creating a more equitable school with our students and families

We grow our capacity to create equity through dialogue that starts with listening.  In the words of African American educator Lisa Delpit, “…a very special kind of listening, listening that requires not only open eyes and ears, but open hearts and minds.  We do not really see through our eyes or hear through our ears, but through our beliefs.  To put our beliefs on hold is to cease to exist as ourselves for a moment, and that is not easy…. I contend that it is those with the most power, those in the majority, who must take the greater responsibility for initiating the process.”

Some resources for learning about racism and Black Lives Matter, and addressing those topics with children are pasted below. Resources on this list are not being endorsed by SPS, but are offered to further learning and dialogue.

  1. Teaching Tolerance
    1. Talking Race (any level) http://www.tolerance.org/talking-race
    2. What’s Fair (elementary school) http://www.tolerance.org/lesson/what-s-fair
    3. Toolkit for Ferguson, U.S.A. (preparing yourself to teach about race and racism; any level) http://www.tolerance.org/ferguson
    4. Teaching Ferguson, USA (middle and high) http://www.tolerance.org/magazine/number-49-spring-2015/feature/ferguson-usa
    5. Teaching about Race, Racism, and Police Violence: http://www.tolerance.org/teaching-about-ferguson  (middle and high)
  1. New York Times Book list on Race
  2. Ben & Jerry’s (yes that Ben and Jerry’s) 7 Ways We Know Systemic Racism is Real
  3. San Francisco Unified School District Library Guide on BlackLivesMatter

Undoubtedly this week’s activities will produce mixed feelings at STEM K-8. Conflicting viewpoints provide opportunities to grow community.  I look forward to conversations with staff and families in the coming months as we work to provide equal opportunities for all students.


Ben Ostrom

Principal, STEM K-8