Meeting Minutes from inSPIRe Social on March 7, 2009

We had our second social event of 2009 at Jim Simpson s home on Capitol Hill. We had a big turnout with around 55 guests to hear our guest speakers Patrick Sexton and Stephan Blanford. Thanks so much to Jim for opening up his home, as well as for the wonderful salmon! Also, big thanks to Jay Sauceda for his help on preparing the salmon!

Our next meeting Our next social will be April 11th and will address Affluenza. Details upcoming stay tuned!

We re always in search for volunteers to host! If you are interested, please contact Dave Gamrath at or (206) 938-8460.

inSPIRe Website Please visit our website for information about inSPIRe, soon including photos from this social.

Our Standard Reminder !

inSPIRe s goal is to provide a lively, fun as well as informative discussion on current issues. As mentioned in our rules of engagement for our social events, we are not trying to obtain total agreement on topics discussed in our meetings, but rather to educate members as to different viewpoints. In building our local Progressive community through grassroots efforts like ours, we believe it is important to provide people with educational opportunities to understand different aspects of current issues as well as a fun, friendly environment in which to discuss these. Our guest speakers are encouraged to share their insights and thus to lobby for the support of inSPIRe members towards their goals. Building community, providing education, inspiring activism and having fun remain our four primary objectives!

The Standard Apology !

As always, the open and engaging nature of our social events leads to our note-taker/recorder/editor (me) to get caught up in the discussion and thus miss writing everything down. My apologies if I missed any important points made or issues raised, or if I did not capture or misinterpreted our speakers messages in any way.



IAN (Inspire Activist Network) IAN has been working to determine our Top 3 focus areas for 2009. Will Downs will be organizing volunteer opportunities around preserving local biodiversity. Vivian Jech and Bill Bradburd are working on ways to bring a wide array of sustainability ideas and methods to the inSPIRe membership. And Jule Sugarman and Carrie Bogner are leading efforts to develop a 2009 King County Platform and to possibly host one or more town halls for 2009 candidates for many local elected offices.

ALL of these efforts need the support and involvement of other inSPIRe members. PLEASE consider joining the efforts! Our goal with IAN is to make activism easy for our membership. If you have been considering spending some time being more involved in our community this year, please consider helping with one of these efforts. The town hall project in particular will need multiple folks to help coordinate and pull it off. Thank you.


King County Countywide Community Forums this is a program our county has designed to increase public participation and input on important issues facing our region. The goal is a user-friendly democracy. This is an all volunteer effort. Anyone living in King County can register to be a volunteer Citizen Councilor and be eligible to participate in the forums. Please visit or call 206-296-1633.


inSPIRe Book Club! We are now reading Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder for our next meeting, April 12th. To join the book club and get on the list, just send an email to


Keynote Speakers:

Patrick Sexton is the Associate Director of Teachers for a New Era (TNE) at the University of Washington.   TNE is a collaborative effort of the Provost, the College of Education and the College of Arts and Sciences to renew the way P-12 teachers are prepared and supported once they are in the field.  Before coming to UW he was a Senior Manager at the Alliance for Education working in close partnership with the community and Seattle Schools to ensure all students had equitable opportunities for academic achievement.  Patrick has also been a professional actor in Seattle.  He served the Leadership Tomorrow Class of 07 as a Coach and the Class of 08 as the Coach of Coaches.  Patrick lives in Seattle with his partner Christopher and their two small children.

Stephan Blanford is Executive Director of the White Center Early Learning Initiative (WCELI), a multimillion dollar demonstration project using research based early learning best practices to ensure that all children, birth to five in White Center community arrive at Kindergarten ready to learn and be successful in life. WCELI is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Thrive by Five and the State of Washington. Stephan has served in various leadership capacities in several local nonprofit organizations prior to assuming leadership of WCELI and has neared completion of a Doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of Washington. He is a graduate of Leadership Tomorrow (Class of 1997), serves on several community boards and is married to Janet Blanford, a public school teacher and administrator and is the doting father of Delaney Grace, a Kindergartener at Beacon Hill International School.

Click here to see the full PowerPoint presentation

Education Our discussion on the state of education began with a Pop Quiz:

Quote: It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste or sex.

Which of the following is true?

a) This quote comes directly from the Washington State Constitution, written in 1889.

b) For the past 30+ years this quote has been used as the cornerstone of education reform in our state.

c) There is widespread agreement that Washington has not met the promise embedded in the quote.

Answers: All are true. Re b) : Though at times it did not seem that this quote was central to education reform, the reformers always lead with it. Washington State has missed the mark set with this element of our state constitution.


Patrick Sexton walked through a timeline, from 1970 to today, of education reform efforts in our state. Although there have been many reform efforts, we have fallen well short of our goals and of our needs. We have had some partial successes, such as the No Child Left Behind Act. It has forced states to collect data on student achievement so that it can be disaggregated by subgroups (race, poverty, special education, etc.). But we ve severely lacked the funds needed to bring our education system to the point where all our children have caught back up, and truly gotten ahead.

Patrick talked about the recommendations of the Basic Education Finance (BEF) Task Force, commissioned by Governor Gregoire after her Washington Learns effort failed to address the financial aspects of reform. If implemented, the recommendations have the potential for huge (positive and negative) impacts on our public education system. There are two bills currently working their way through the legislature. Both grew out fo the BEF Task Force ( You can look at Bill 2261 by clicking here. You can look at Bill 6048 by clicking here.

One major contribution is expanding the definition of basic education, for which the state is responsible, to include early learning, particularly for low-income 3 and 4 yeaer olds.

Stephan Blanford then spoke in depth regarding Early Learning. As is Executive Director of the White Center Early Learning Initiative (WCELI), Stephan has been actively engaged in what is needed to insure a child is ready to success in Kindergarten and beyond. A key issue with early learning, as with broader education, and as with so many other issues is funding. Proper funding is required, and this means more taxes. And given our current tax structure, achieving the necessary funding levels is extremely difficult. Disparities between districts in funding is dramatic. The question is how to adequately fund? An obvious solution, but one that won t be touched by our politicians, is through the implementation of a state income tax.

Early learning is now in the definition of basic education. Kids of color and disadvantaged kids are at risk of not graduating high school, of not continuing their studies post-high school and of not being able to land a living wage job. This is an old cycle, and it continues today. Stephan personally experienced this cycle in his family. He was the first of his family to attend college. He was drawn to early learning because of the statistics surrounding the issue. Forty different languages are spoken in White Center. Upon starting kindergarten, only 40% of the kids are ready. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation established two demonstration programs in WA to show how a community wide focus on early learning could make a difference in the lives of children and their community. WCELI is one of the demonstration sites.

With the WCELI, many issues are addressed and many tactics employed. For example, they are working with Public Health of Seattle King County to identify pregnant women in the community and to begin work with them to begin the process of helping their children to be successful. Many different cultural issues are addressed. As an example, in some cases in lieu of Western doctors, Doulas are employed. The WCELI has shown many positive results. The new center was built for children from newborns to 5 years old. These kids get much greater time to spend with highly qualified teachers (a minimum of a Masters degree is required). Also, there are very low teacher to child ratios.

A program similar to WCELI was implemented in Chicago in a housing project. After 5 years, 95% of the children in this program were tested as ready for kindergarten. Neighborhood children outside of the program tested at only 15% ready. This dramatic difference shows the importance of these early learning programs in the future success of children. An example of a child being prepared for Kindergarten is as simple as the child knowing how to walk in line.

There is also a broader benefit to the community. Engaging the entire community is necessary for success the better this can be done the better the results. Early learning is not completed in a vacuum. The WCELI is a statewide model and is also getting national attention. They are working on better alignment with K-12. So often, and at many stages, kids begin to drop off in our education system. We need to build a system to keep this from happening. This problem is covered quite well in Governor Chris Gregoire s Basic Education (Finance) Task Force.

Patrick then returned to a discussion of specifics on our Governor s Task Force. Six legislators are on the Task Force. They are working on many issues, including the KEY ISSUE: funding. The Task Force recommends a new funding structure, and that education funding should be increased from today s $12 billion per bi-annum by +70% to $20 billion per bi-annum. Other recommendations include:

         Use of the new state Board of Education approved graduation requirements that increase the number of credits required for graduation (see Core 24 at

         Expansion of the definition of basic education to include preschool for low-income families and extra time and teaching for struggling students

         A new funding allocation system that provides for

  • Expansion of preschool
  • Smaller K-12 class sizes
  • Additional period per day in secondary schools
  • Extra time for struggling students
  • Specialized instruction for ELL and special ed students
  • An increase in baseline administrative and support services for schools and districts
  • Increased non-employee related costs
  • Equalizing districts levy authority using a per student allowable amount
  • Creating statewide data and fiscal systems
  • Replacing the current teacher salary allocation model, which rewards accumulation of degrees and professional development, with a career ladder that rewards improvements in teacher effectiveness
  • Creating a differential pay model that attracts teacher in shortage areas including math, science, bilingual education and special education
  • Creating school-wide incentives for significant increase in student academic achievement
  • Increasing the number of paid professional development days from two to ten
  • Intensive mentoring for new and early career teaches up to five years

The proposal provides school-wide incentives: if you can raise kids test scores, you can receive more funding. But this includes risks, including the concept of teaching a child to test , creaming the best kids, as well as the questions of how to accurately measure results and if the students can hold their improvements.


Q Has the Task Force looked at other systems, for example, the Singapore Math system?

A Yes. But a system such as the Singapore Math system is a culturally-based system that works well in Singapore with their ridged society. Approaches must be culturally sensitive.


Q Wouldn t it work better if new teachers were given full responsibilities on a more graduated basis, for example starting with only 3 classes instead of a full 6 classes?

A That is a very promising idea. However, this is not in the plan. But smaller class sizes are in the plan. The target is for a class size of 25 in High School, with some classes (e.g. lab science) at 16; K-3 grad classes would be held at 15 students. The number of students decreases for schools with high concentrations of children who qualify for Free and Reduced Price Lunch (the generally accepted poverty indicator for school aged children).

Today, Washington State ranks about 43rd in the nation as to per student funding. Pretty bad. However, on national standardized tests our state is actually achieving at a much higher rate than this.


Q Didn t our state allow gambling to increase funding for education?

A It did, but basically revenue increases from gambling were taken away from other revenue sources, such as the General Fund.


Audience Comment: we can talk all we want about inequities in our education system, but unless we join forces with other groups and other issues to work together towards improving funding for education, we won t succeed. We must raise taxes. We need to raise significant dollars through things such as a Children s Investment Trust or other methods.


Q Doesn t Title I drive towards poverty schools ?

A We are moving towards funding the child vs funding the school.


Q Doesn t supporting a small group such as early learning children 5 and younger inhibit us from building a larger coalition needed to succeed?

A Our current system make it so when a parent advocates for their own child, then at the same time are advocating against other children. This system needs to be changed.


Currently, Seattle dis-incentivizes teachers from working with disadvantaged kids. The way the system is currently set up. For instance, high-poverty schools often have more difficult working conditions along with higher teacher turnover. Fewer people apply for these positions making new teachers more competitive - open positions in challenging schools are often filled by novice teachers. Once positions open in less challenging schools, these teachers, who now have a few years experience, move into those positions. This, of course, continues the cycle of the unintentional matching of less qualified teachers teaching in the most challenging assignments. So, the kids the need the experienced teacher the most are getting them the least.


NOTE: Generally speaking the state pays districts a set amount per teacher, regardless of geography. Each district, along with their teachers association, makes some adjustments to the pay scale depending on local factors. There are not significant pay differentials between Washington schools and districts (some, but not significant). However, because of the cycle described above, less challenging schools tend to have more experience teachers and therefore higher overall actual salary commitments. In Seattle, it tends to be that north of the Ship Canal (i.e. less poverty) having higher salary commitments, when whole school staffs are considered.


Q How much is enrollment in private schools in Seattle increasing?

A Seattle s private school enrollment is far higher than other similar sized cities in the US. However, the percent of children going to private schools is staying fairly constant.

Seattle residents tend to be willing to tax themselves to support education more than other cities.

Audience Comment other groups, such as Realtors, also form coalitions to fight tax issues. The Reality Association is quite large. Teachers need to work with other coalitions such as this to obtain tax changes that we need for adequate funding.

Audience Comment concerning our elected officials, 30% to 50% of their children go to private schools. We need to survey our elected officials to see where they personally stand on this, and see if they are willing to take a personal stand on public education and invest by sending their own children to public schools. Also, 70% of National Merit Scholars come from public schools.

Audience Comment what we don t invest now will cost society much more in the future. Education is a lot cheaper than prison or even unemployment.


Q What do you mean by early learning? Is this something that is measurable in a standardized test? Childhood intelligence can be equated to the number of words they understand, which is dependent on what is spoken to them. Many parents don t know how to go about this learning process with their children. Do you also teach parents?

A An example of how WCELI works to educate parents is the use of Public Health nurses in the program. These nurses go to the homes of the kids. They work with the families in this regard. Many resources are focused on this. For a five year old entering kindergarten we can see differences between kids of up to 30,000 words understood. This has a dramatic impact on success, or lack of success. Most families don t understand this. It isn t that 3, 4 or 5 year olds should be taught how to solve difficult problems. WCELI is not pushing for that. They are working to get kids engaged. Focus is on brain enrichment.


Q What can you say about studies that show better results for kids that go to schools that require the students to wear uniforms, or that go to same-sex schools?

A Stephan s 5 year old daughter s school requires uniforms. At first he didn t like the idea, but he grew to appreciate it very much. Now he loves it. Uniforms take many inappropriate issues out of the equation and helps to keep better focus in the classroom. This is especially true with children of color. But uniforms cannot be mandated. Stephan does not believe most of our community would be for school uniforms due to issues with freedom to wear what we please .

Kids of color face a different set of challenges. These need to be equalized. Society treats kids differently. We need to advocate for all kids to succeed.


Q Don t our government agencies tend to mismanage and squander funds? Also, is it realistic to believe that school unions will allow the changes being proposed by the Task Force?

A Teachers have these same fears of mismanagement. The public holds our school system accountable for many of society s woes. Clearly this is a problem.


Audience Comment a relative of mine is working in a school in Virginia that was experiencing significant student turnover, as well as many other problems. Then the school changed to mandating school uniforms. This lead to many improved results, including much less turnover. Sometimes, even though the kids may not like it, they need to be shown their limits. A uniform can be a catalyst.


Q What has become of the old parallel track of providing students a career in technical education, what we use to call shop classes?

A There has been a transition (at least in the rhetoric) from focusing on college preparation towards preparation for a brader definition of post secondary education, including a Career and Tech training. Our kids need some sort of secondary education to find a living-wage job, as well as to prepare them to be a life-long problem solver. But we still have a very long way to go before we find the right balance that will serve all children.


We need education to get people to learn the importance of participating within our society, to learn that they may be voting against their own economic self interest, and that it is in their interest to help pass school levies. The US is currently 24th in the world in education. We can, and must do better.


As always, many, many questions were asked but not recorded.  Sorry!

Many thanks to our host and our speakers!


See you at the next inSPIRe meeting!


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Previous meeting minutes


Previous IAN Events


First Speaker, Patrick Sexton


Second Speaker, Stephan Blanford



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