Race is not being ignored in the Tukwila School District.
The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will ensure that.
Nor is student achievement.
Dedicated teachers and staff – and a success coordinator at Foster High School – will help ensure that all students ignite their passion.
Nor is the district itself shying away from meeting its responsibility to create an environment in the workplace and classroom where everyone is valued and respected.
A community conversation will help ensure that. It’s beginning this week.
Of course, all that is easier to write than actually put into place. Racial tension has been a central theme of our American history from the beginning. Frankly, we’re not very good at understanding each other; we’re culturally incompetent, no matter which census box you check.
For Tukwila, race is a key defining demographic. For the Tukwila School District, that multitude of colorful faces is magical but also its greatest challenge.
Tukwila’s schools have been shaken for two years and not just because African-American employees have filed lawsuits – that’s a symptom of a larger issue and it’s their right. Tukwila’s school community is finding its racial footing, one that everyone shares or at least understands and from which everyone can try to move forward.
And that’s not going to happen without a lot of talking. And understanding. And more talking. And a realization that success isn’t achieved by going to court and winning but figuring out how to keep everyone out of court. Let’s spend those legal fees to educate kids.
And it starts at the top.
Talk about school district leadership, including the school board, and the employee’s attorney, Joan Mell, asks, “Where’s the color?” Voters in the City of Seattle have just opted to elect City Council members by district, rather than in a city-wide vote, an effort to better represent neighborhoods with common needs and demographics. A change like that in Tukwila could add color to the dialogue on the Tukwila school board, Mell says.
Anyone who grew up in Tukwila in the middle decades of the 20th century (boy that sounds like a long time ago), found little color in Tukwila’s schools (actually, South Central School District 406). But that doesn’t mean those kids weren’t exposed to the social upheaval of those decades. Tukwila is small, but it’s not isolated.
Still, Tukwila has had a steep learning curve, I think, in learning how to provide a home and an education for all the new arrivals from around the world who have made the city and the school district among the most diverse in the nation.
Right now is a critical point in that evolution and it should continue with not one but many conversations.
Those conversations started this week. Superintendent Nancy Coogan has organized a Socratic Seminar that will allow students, community members and political leaders to inquire deeply into a single issue and come up with an action plan. That issue is race and racism in education.
And it should continue with community partnerships like the one that brought Jesse McCall to Foster as the school’s success coordinator. Reaching or teaching kids is all about making connections on many levels, including skin color, or in McCall’s case, a cultural one. (See our cover story in this issue).
And I’ll end by circling back to the courtroom. A judge or a jury should not impose a set of values on the Tukwila school system. Choosing its own values is a right and responsibility that belongs to the community.