By NANCY COOGAN
Superintendent, Tukwila School District
Welcome to the 2015-16 school year! I have been out in schools and classrooms, and I need to commend our students for showing up with great energy and enthusiasm for learning and our staff for embracing this new beginning like they do each student — with full expectation of unlimited potential. I can feel the optimism and hope, and I know that everyone — student and staff alike — is ready to give their best. Furthermore, I have the data and experience to show that our students are turning that self-belief into action. They are making progress, and even leading the state and nation in their growth.
That’s why it’s so disheartening to once again start the school year by mailing a No Child Left Behind (NCLB) letter to each household. Almost every single family in the state with children at public schools received a similar letter. Quite simply, the requirements of NCLB are not realistic. If anything less than 100 percent of students — including those in subgroups like special education and English Language Learners — does not meet standard on reading and math tests, the entire school is deemed “failing.” The President, congressional members, education leaders, and parents almost universally agree that this does not make sense, and they are actively trying to change the law. (U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says, “As it currently exists, NCLB is creating a slow-motion educational train wreck for children.”)
At issue is the fact that actual student progress is not being considered, and it is nonsensical call a school a failure if only one student does not meet a uniform bar of achievement. This is particularly true in Tukwila, where students make tremendous growth but often begin at a place of significant disadvantage.
So here’s what I want to say to each and every student and teacher: YOU ARE NOT A NUMBER. You can never be reduced to a number, and what makes you exceptional outshines any ill-conceived federal law. More than that— never start to let a label like “failing” define what you are capable of achieving. You are limitless.
I invite Mr. Duncan, our own lawmakers, community members – heck, even the President! – to come to Tukwila to see what actual student growth looks like, not just a static benchmark of proficiency. I invite them to consider expanding their definition of student success to include artistic expression, identity development, resiliency, happiness, global and humanitarian engagement, real-world job skills, and more. For many of our students, just the act of making it here, to Tukwila, and to the schoolhouse every day has required unbelievable acts of courage and strength.
To be sure, we have a long way to go. We are constantly striving to improve and serve students better, and our Strategic Plan provides a clear roadmap toward the achievement goals that matter most for the Tukwila community. But I will say it again and again: Our district — our students, our educators, our families — are successes. Let me tell you about just a few of them:
• Foster High and Tukwila Elementary won the state’s highest award for student growth in math last year.
• Foster almost doubled the number of Advanced Placement tests administered last year compared to five years ago. On the AP Calculus test, our students had the highest median score in the state!
• Our preliminary graduation rate went from 55 percent to 69 percent last year. Our grads earned more than $3 million in scholarships.
• Our STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) program is garnering local and national attention!
• 98 percent of elementary students averaged four months growth during summer school this year.
• Middle-school students with regular attendance doubled their math and reading scores on average.
• High school students completed more than 70 courses to earn credits to date, and others participated in an Advanced Placement boot camp where they got a jump start to prepare them for the rigorous, college-level courses.
• We have created a Balanced Literacy Framework for all teachers and have begun a comprehensive training program for elementary teachers that will serve as a foundation for all students’ learning.
• Cascade View has reduced discipline infractions from 69 in 2007-8 to just 4 last year.
• Each day we serve a free breakfast to every elementary student through our Breakfast in the Classroom program.
• Our Transportation Department earned the top efficiency rating in the state last year.
As we begin this new school year, please join me in raising our voices louder than any outside law or critic. We are Tukwila. We have unlimited potential.
In service, Supt. Nancy Coogan
Tukwila School Superintendent Dr. Nancy Coogan can be reached at 206-901-8006 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.