Four SPS Principals Discuss the State of Racial Equity

/ February 2, 2024

RARE’s Open Discussions returned on September 18, 2023 with a panel of four Seattle Public Schools’ principals discussing the advances and challenges pertaining to racial equity in their schools. RARE’s guests were principals Tami Brewer of Roosevelt High School, Ivory Brooks of Rainier Beach High School, Corey Eichner of Lincoln High School, and John Houston of Whitman Middle School. The evening’s moderator was Rena Mateja, a current college student and community activist for racial equity.

After introductions in which the principals gave their work history,  and showed a heartfelt dedication to Seattle’s youth, Rena asked the principals whether they felt that all of their students felt safe and respected “as whole persons in mind, body, and spirit?” Their answers varied, but all agreed that the goal was to eventually answer yes.

Ivory Brooks said Rainier Beach’s goal was for each student to have one trusted adult in the building as a go-to. He acknowledged the challenge of the “outside forces” that can raise anxiety and that having his staff in position to help is a focus at their school. “Rainier Beach”, Mr. Brooks said, “is the most diverse high school west of the Mississippi River.” His goal is for Rainier Beach to be “the model for the nation in equity education.” He noted a time when the school reached out to the Guatemalan Consulate after a number of Guatemalan refugees enrolled at Rainier Beach. The Consulate provided Guatemalan reading materials.

Tami Brewer acknowledged the difficulty of surmising what all students are feeling and has kept her door open to them in order to hear their concerns. Corey Eichner would like to see systemic change in which institutional barriers that don’t put the students at the center are torn down. (College Boards was named as one of those barriers.)

John Houston addressed a time while as an Assistant Principal at Ingraham High School, the issue of “micro-aggressions” that was upsetting a number of students was dealt with by engaging the students in finding a solution. Ingraham students led a workshop that involved students and staff. He said, “The more students are engaged, the more they feel safe and respected. We have to take the time to listen to the students.” All principals nodded their acknowledgements.

The issues involving equitable school curriculum were addressed as well. All agreed that ethnic studies are American studies. Tami Brewer said teachers at Roosevelt are doing their work with “intent and purposes” in providing “windows and mirrors for our students.” Ivory Brooks said Rainier Beach is intentionally aligning with ethnic studies and that Rainier Beach’s urgency is that “kids to be connected to their school.” John Houston noted that as a middle school that doesn’t adhere to some of the structural impediments to which Dr. Eichner alluded, Whitman has more flexibility that allows more diverse content. “Learning,” Mr. Houston said, “has to go beyond books.”

What was abundantly clear from this Open Discussion, judging from our panel, is that racial equity in Seattle Public Schools is a high priority. It is a high priority in personal relations, curriculum, and in the community as a whole. All of our guests repeatedly used the word “listen” when it comes to their students. It is comforting to know that our schools are embracing this practice.

RARE is grateful to the four principals for joining the Open Discussion on September 18, 2023. Our gratitude also extends to moderator Rena Mateja, to June Nho Ivers of SCPTSA for technical assistance, and to the translators whose work enables RARE to reach a greater audience.

The next RARE Open Discussion is slated for January 2024 and the focus will be on strategies and programs to break the school-to-prison-pipeline. We plan to have a student who has lived the experience of inequities in the schools, an attorney with experience working with at risk youth, and a representative from the AAMA (African American Male Achievement) program, as well as a representative from Choose 180.