11 23 2014
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Garfield High School walkout

Last week hundreds of Garfield supporters thronged outside the red-brick school in a rainstorm to protest the proposed cut

The dramatic walk-out of Garfield High School students and staff last Thursday – led out the door by its signature student drum line to protest the late transfer of a core teacher weeks after the year had already started – has failed to sway district administrators.

Interim Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Larry Nyland on Monday announced that he is going ahead with the Garfield transfer, but will wait until next semester and won’t eliminate an instructor in a core subject, as had been feared.

The district’s announcement on Oct. 17 that because of a drop in “projected enrollment,” they would be transferring a core teacher at Garfield to an “overenrolled” school provoked outrage and headlines around the country.

For its part the district has denied that it issued an “ultimatum” on the teacher transfer, and that several other schools received the same message; however one school, Gatewood Elementary in West Seattle, reportedly did raise an estimated $90,000 within one week to avoid loss of a teacher.

The district says that every October they look at enrollment to rebalance teacher assignments, so that schools it deems are too crowded receive teachers transferred from schools where the student population has gone down.

Hagopian and school supporters argued that enrollment was up for this year, and School Board District 4 representative Sue Peters, a Garfield parent, reportedly asked the superintendent personally to take a second look at the enrolment statistics. But the district says those numbers don’t count.

“The district initiated a review after Garfield reported that 49 additional students appeared to have not been counted toward the official October enrollment,” Nyland wrote in his statement Monday.

“The review of each of those individual students indicated that 29 of them attend the Running Start program, which allows 11th and 12th graders to take higher education classes. That means they do not take any classes at Garfield and cannot be included in the headcount for staffing.

“The review also indicated that the remaining 20 students should not be included for a variety of reasons (e.g., they were athletics only, transferred to other schools and other factors).”

Last week hundreds of Garfield supporters thronged outside the red-brick school in a rainstorm to protest the proposed cut which – if carried out in mid-semester -- would have left an estimated 150 students suddenly without one class per day and could keep as many from graduating on time.

For that reason the walkout was held at 1:50 pm, a half hour before the end of the school day. Scores of parents and school supporters participated alongside students and staff.

“Please know that this adjustment is not expected to affect a teacher of a core required subject and will not occur immediately; the affected teacher is expected to stay in place at least through the end of the first semester in order to minimize any disruptions to students’ schedules,” Nyland said Monday in a statement.

However school advocates – and many media reports – hammered the district for poor communication and what some say is a consistent refusal to give proper resources to schools that need them the most, including Garfield, where almost 40 percent of the student population qualifies for free or reduced price lunches.

Garfield history teacher Jesse Hagopian, himself a Garfield graduate, has galvanized the school community since he led last year’s successful boycott of high stakes standardized tests that led the Seattle schools to allow teachers to opt out of the “Measures of Academic Progress” test program.

 “Seattle’s Garfield High School (where I graduated from and now teach history) has once again united the students, parents, and educators in common struggle,” he wrote last week on his blog, ‘I AM AN EDUCATOR.”

“Last Friday it was announced that our school had until the following Friday, October 24th, to raise $92,000 or else one of the teachers in a core subject area would be displaced.  We still don’t know which of us will be targeted for displacement, but we do know the pain of this cut will be severe. 

“As the joint letter to the superintendent from the Garfield staff and PTSA states, ‘One hundred and fifty students will have no place to go for one period each day, which will inevitably lead to greater class disruptions, absences, and truancy. One hundred and fifty students may not graduate on time,” Hagopian wrote.

At Thursday’s demonstration, students chanted: ‘Let us graduate,’ while teachers chanted: ‘Let us educate.’

Hagopian’s forthcoming book, published by Haymarket, is a collection of essays about education reform by writers around the country titled “More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing.” Read more about his work at www.iamaneducator.com.

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