Virtually all of my career has focused on equity—striving to grow opportunity for each and every student.
Everything I’ve learned in more than five decades as an educator tells me that today our mission to reach every student is more urgent than ever. Without a good education, half of our students have little hope of a productive future.
A Personal Passion
In my career and in life, I have benefited greatly from both white privilege and excellent education. It’s an experience I believe shouldn’t be exclusive. One of the goals toward which I invest my efforts daily is extending to all students, especially students of color, that same hope and opportunity for an excellent education, and all of the doors it unlocks.
My maternal grandfather came to the U.S. from Scandinavia in 1910 to work in the Index granite quarries. He later became a construction superintendent and worked across the country to support his family during the depression. He eventually helped build the UW administration building, Husky stadium, the Federal building and many other buildings in Seattle and the Puget Sound. He read the dictionary daily, insisted the family speak English, and advocated the power of education – for his sons – who became doctors and engineers. As a female, my mother was denied the same opportunity and spent most of her adult lifetime pursuing professional education on her own.
My father grew up in a home where English was a second language. He was the first of his generation to attend college. The GI Bill made it possible to finish college while working as a carpenter. He became a Seattle teacher when I was four years old. I remember my mother often saying, “We don’t have two nickels to rub together.” By today’s standards, ours would have been a free-and-reduced-lunch family. But my parents were committed to an excellent education for both my sister and me. They made sure we did well in school. And they sacrificed to ensure that their kids would go to college. There was never a time when college was not a possibility; it was an expectation.
A Shared Mission
Our communities across America represent both the possibilities and the challenges of providing quality education to all students. Many families have high aspirations and the ability to make sure their students do well in school and continue their education. Other families have those same aspirations, but face significant obstacles to their children’s success.
- Nearly 50 percent of students nationally qualify for free and reduced lunch.
- More than half of our students are now students of color.
- English Language Learners are our fastest growing population.
One of my former students, Juanita, felt she had no chance for college in spite of 4.0 GPA, because she was Latina, female, and poor. However, when she met others like herself who were able to go to college, she saw new possibilities. She attended college and graduated with a degree in nursing.
Today, more than ever, education is the key to the future. By 2030 the majority our workforce will be comprised majority by people of color—the very students schools struggle most to serve well. As educators we must advocate for each and every child. We cannot afford to write off half of our students—morally, politically, or economically. Unless we add value and help every student in every circumstance do well in school, they—and we—have no future.
Education is the key to our future. Three of every four family-wage jobs require some college—not a four-year degree, but some college. Lifetime earnings for those who complete a single year of college are double those of a high school dropout. If we want to sustain and grow our communities, maintain our property values, pay our social security, and fulfill our moral imperative, we must give every student a positive future, help every student graduate, and prepare every student for college, career, and life.
Eliminating opportunity gaps is THE issue of our time. Public schools are the hope for our students, the hope for our community, and the hope for our future.
We can and must rise to this challenge. This requires us, as educators, to become learners. To figure out what works. During my four years as Seattle superintendent, we closed graduation gaps by nearly half. One day at a time, one learning at a time, one success at a time, we are defining new paths, opening doors, and empowering futures.