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OPINION | Why I Support Liza Rankin for Seattle Public Schools School Board District 1 - South Seattle Emerald

Author: South Seattle Emerald

Source: https://southseattleemerald.com/2023/10/30/opinion-why-i-support-liza-rankin-for-seattle-public-schools-school-board-district-1/

Image of OPINION | Why I Support Liza Rankin for Seattle Public Schools School Board District 1 - South Seattle Emerald

by Sebrena BurrMany know my story and why I do this work.My brother, Henry Burr Jr., was murdered in 1998.Being stabbed in the chest with a pocket knife in Pioneer Square caused his death, but the first stab to penetrate his heart came from Seattle Public Schools.Despite a loving and supportive family, Henry’s learning experience made him lose belief in his learning abilities, affecting his sense of self.Later, with limited jobs and careers available to him, Henry chose jobs that used his physical strength, even working long, hard hours on fishing boats in Alaska until his hands bled because his academic deficits limited his employment options.What my brother experienced is happening at an accelerated rate today. Currently only 17% of African American students in Seattle Public Schools meet grade level standards.Students not performing at grade level and graduating without the skills and knowledge they need to thrive in life affects every part of our society.There is nothing more important than preparing our children for their futures, and to do so we need to have unwavering focus on what skills and attributes students need to be dynamic contributors to the communities where they reside.Blessed with a miracle child late in life, I was determined to prevent my brother’s story from being repeated.I wanted my child to leave Seattle Public Schools with a strong sense of self and a deep love for learning, so I literally went back to school with her from pre-K to eighth grade.I originally entered the school to support my own child.But what I discovered was that my presence and advocacy made a difference not only for my child, but for all children in her school community and beyond. And as it turned out, I noticed little Henrys all around me.And it was through some of that advocacy that I met Liza Rankin at a school board meeting in 2016 when she was leading Soup for Teachers — a program that supported educators during the teachers’ strike — on the historic night The Office of African American Male Achievement was voted into existence.It is coming up on eight years that I have had the privilege of working closely with Liza.During that span of time, we’ve spent countless hours in deep conversations, collaborated, working through educational challenges to find solutions, learned, and unlearned together.That July, I became the first Black woman and Person of Color to lead Seattle Council PTSA, the umbrella organization that supports and partners with all Parent Teacher Student Associations in Seattle Public Schools.As such, my challenges and burdens looked different from those of my predecessors. Liza was my vice president.I admit to being pleasantly surprised by how Liza showed up.As a privileged white woman, Liza’s unwavering support of me in my leadership for the vision I had set for Seattle Council PTSA — with no other agenda — gave me space to breathe in an atmosphere that often caused me to want to give up.Liza showed unwavering support when I faced discrimination from fellow board members.During this work, I came face-to-face with how the system seemed so stacked against kids, and adult agendas and petty loyalties were consistently destructive to the legitimate efforts to create a system that is centered around student learning needs.This keeps us in a state where the support we know students need to thrive are insufficient and often out of reach.Two months later, John Muir Elementary School experienced a bomb threat.The Seattle Council PTSA board successfully advocated to the district that the community wanted a strong response, and Liza authored the “Black Lives Matter Resolution” for Seattle Council PTSA. Seattle Public Schools moved forward with embracing “Black Lives Matter,” which led to Black Lives Matter in School, a week of action replicated across the country.After Liza was elected school board director, I was sent a disturbing video from a parent leader of a female student being restrained by two male staff at an SPS school.After Liza had seen, she and South End Board Director Brandon Hersey teamed up to write an isolation and restraint policy after speaking to the community, engaging with families, and hearing heartbreaking stories of the harm to students these practices had caused.For students who have not been served and those who have, we need to move from a reactive school district to a proactive one with strategies, timelines, measurements, and real-time adjustments to meet goals and targeted outcomes.Liza understands this.Liza diligently worked on the “Policy Book” to organize, update, and streamline policies and to eliminate outdated and conflicting policies. She understands that our students’ needs are in real-time and are impacted by choices and decisions they have no say in.As the board legislative representative, she has built strong relationships and understanding with lawmakers over the past four years.With so much at stake for SPS, these relationship investments are essential.Another example of Liza pushing for a proactive school district is her being an integral part in the push for Student Outcomes Focused Governance (SOFG) model.SOFG is a progress monitoring system that puts students first and centers them in a way we have never done before.School boards get stuck focusing on adult inputs (things like staff, facilities, programs, and books), but SOFG narrows our focus to ensure student outcomes finally improve. SOFG is about getting the school board to intentionally and unapologetically focus on growing what students know and are able to do.Liza and our current board have been working hard and taking advantage of national leading best practice through their partnership with the Council of Great City Schools, who supports them in the policy and practice of SOFG.They have also worked to strengthen the board-superintendent relationship, creating role clarity between the two.With budget deficits and all the challenges that currently face SPS, it is imperative to retain the knowledge, institutional memory, and deep understanding of education funding that Liza brings.By reelecting Liza, we have an opportunity to follow through on putting students first; something that — despite great effort — SPS has failed to do for decades.The soul of America is birthed in our K–12 education.When I think of all the students like my brother Henry, who are still in SPS, I know that these kids would be better served if the education system’s marching orders were to make sure they have the skills to navigate life after school and have a variety of options to make a living wage.I am confident the trajectory of Henry’s life would have been different, had that been the case. For my brother the story is written.But the story is still unfolding for SPS students in classrooms today!We have an opportunity to change their experiences, outcomes, and opportunities available to them in life.We are at a pivotal moment in education.With her vast knowledge and experience fighting for what’s important, Liza will be invaluable to help build the knowledge and capacity of incoming board directors as well as student board members.With her continued leadership we don’t have to move backwards. Her critical voice and knowledge will be a strong bridge and connector for a story that has long needed to change.Put students front and center today.Retain Vice President Liza Rankin for Seattle Public Schools School Board District 1.The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.Sebrena Burr is a longtime Seattle community and education advocate.She has previously served as the president of the Seattle Council Parent Teacher Student Association and as a state delegate for National Parent Teacher Association.📸 Featured Image: Photo via wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock.comBefore you move on to the next story …The South Seattle Emerald is brought to you by Rainmakers.Rainmakers give recurring gifts at any amount. With over 1,000 Rainmakers, the Emerald is truly community-driven local media.Help us keep BIPOC-led media free and accessible.If just half of our readers signed up to give $6 a month, we wouldn't have to fundraise for the rest of the year.Small amounts make a difference.We cannot do this work without you.Become a Rainmaker today!

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