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NEA, WEA presidents visit local elementaries

From left, Lei-Lani Cheer-Emmsley and Aubrey Zackuse, students at the Quil Ceda and Tulalip elementary schools, speak with National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel about some of the books they’ve been reading on Nov. 18. - Kirk Boxleitner
From left, Lei-Lani Cheer-Emmsley and Aubrey Zackuse, students at the Quil Ceda and Tulalip elementary schools, speak with National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel about some of the books they’ve been reading on Nov. 18.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

MARYSVILLE — The students of the Quil Ceda and Tulalip elementary schools received some special visitors on the morning of Monday, Nov. 18, who kicked off American Education Week by letting them know that their hard work has not gone unnoticed.

“People from across the United States are taking a look at what you’re doing, right here in your schools, and they’re very impressed,” said Kim Mead, president of the Washington Education Association, as she joined Marysville Education Association President Arden Watson and Anthony Craig, co-principal of the Quil Ceda and Tulalip elementary schools, in unfurling banners proclaiming the two schools to be Washington State High-Performing Priority Schools for 2013.

Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, drew a few impressed exclamations from the students when he told them that he’d come all the way from Washington, D.C., to see their schools, but those noises grew even louder when he presented oversized checks for $500 each to the Quil Ceda and Tulalip elementary schools for their libraries.

The Quil Ceda and Tulalip elementary schools were two of the three schools that Van Roekel and Mead visited and toured on Nov. 18, out of the 27 high-poverty Washington schools that received millions of dollars in federal School Improvement Grants.

“We also have Rep. John McCoy here today,” Craig said at the morning assembly during which Van Roekel and Mead met the schools’ students. “Not only he is from Tulalip, but he helps pass laws for Washington state that make sure our schools can be run how we want. In the future, we’ll need another state representative from Tulalip, just like we’ll need more principals and more teachers to keep these schools running, and with the brains that we’re growing right here, we should be able to get at least 50 of them from right in this room.”

Van Roekel was impressed not only by the academic progress of the Quil Ceda and Tulalip elementary schools, but also by the conduct of its students during the assembly.

“The reason we go before Congress and newspaper editorial boards is because we want to tell your success stories,” Van Roekel told school staff members after the assembly. “The best part of my job is coming to schools like this, that have really made a difference. The NEA doesn’t just exist to be a labor union. We’re here to advocate for education professionals, so that your voices can be heard. Lawmakers need to know how the laws they pass impact your schools and students.”

Craig, who hails from the Yakama Nation, attributed much of the Quil Ceda and Tulalip elementary schools’ academic success to the ways in which it links and fosters academic achievement and cultural traditions.

“You have to resist the urge to just bump up test scores,” Craig said. “There’s healing work that has to be done, and we’re just starting on that path. My grandmother, who helped raise my child, survived the boarding schools. There’s an intergenerational trauma there, which is why we have things like our morning assemblies, to show students that their culture is welcome here, and that this school belongs to them. That’s why it’s so valuable to have visitors like John McCoy, to show these children that they can achieve the same things as adults as anyone else. It’s not all about what shows up in test scores.”

“It’s also about attendance rates and levels of parental interaction,” Mead agreed. “It’s about the whole child, rather than just a single point of data.”

Watson touted the value of empowering teachers by affording them ample time to evaluate the data that they collect in real time in their classrooms, which allows them to address any problems that they spot as they occur. She and Kristin DeWitte, the other co-principal of the Quil Ceda and Tulalip elementary schools, both asserted that the schools’ progress would not have been possible without the generous support of the Tulalip Tribes, even with the federal SIG money they’ve received.

“Our teachers are already collecting this data,” Watson said. “What they need is time to figure out strategies in response to their findings.”

“I’ve been beating this drum for years,” McCoy said. “We need to reduce the excessive outside assessments. I don’t like students being evaluated by taking tests that are two years removed from when they learned the information. What we should be telling our teachers is, ‘Here’s the goal,’ but don’t tell them how they have to get here. It’s the ones who work in the classrooms who know where they need to focus their efforts.”

“Three hours out of one day is no measure of what a child has learned,” Van Roekel agreed.

Van Roekel and Mead reported that Washington’s SIG schools outperformed similar schools in every other state

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