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Seattle Focuses on Improving Public School Programs through Education Initiatives

September 20, 2010

In the past few years, Seattle has recognized the need to improve its public schools and advance children's education. The city has committed itself to providing a high quality school for every student and strives to provide an educational environment where all students meet or exceed grade'level expectations. Elected in November 2009, Mayor Michael McGinn has put several initiatives in place, and continues to support existing programs to assist students with preparation for advanced education and a career.

First introduced in November 1990, the Families and Education Levy has provided in'school and out of school support to Seattle children, as well as their families. The Education Levy is designed to help children succeed academically and provide them with educational guidance in their path through high school and preparation for college. Seattle voters approved an expanded Families and Education Levy in 2004, which provides $117 million over seven'years for pre'kindergarten through high school students. The 2004 Levy places a stronger emphasis on serving schools that have traditionally underperformed, while continuing to fund many of the programs instituted in the past. It has a strong focus on preparing children for school, assisting in their completion of school and improving academic achievement.

In order to help close the achievement gap, which is present before students enter preschool, the Levy focuses on increasing the quality of classrooms and teachers, and implements assessments used to increase professional development opportunities. Indicators, such as the Measure of Academic Progress (MAP), are used to assess the academic growth of students to assist in reducing the gap.

Some of the most crucial years of a child's development are in the earliest years of life. The Levy focuses on helping children, with particular emphasis on low'income families, to overcome challenges they face at the early educational stage. The Seattle Step Ahead preschool program, funded by the Levy, is a program established to help students develop the skills necessary to be successful in school. Held from September through June, it offers students either a part'day program four to five days a week, or full'day programs five days week.

Seattle's city government understands the vital impact families have on the growth of children. The Levy provides special support for students by focusing programs on parental involvement in schools. In addition, the Levy funds out'of'school programs that provide mental health services, social/emotional counseling and dropout prevention during school hours. It developed an evaluation plan to track the success and accountability of the programs it funds, which requires development of an annual report and that it be made accessible to Seattle citizens to identify progress. The Families and Education Levy comes up for renewal in 2011.

The Levy is just one of the many steps Seattle is taking towards improving its public school and education system. The Seattle Early Education Collaborative (SEEC) and the Youth and Families Initiative are two additional programs the city has created to advance childhood education programs and development.

The major goal of the SEEC is to improve educational quality in preschool programs to increase the amount of school'ready children throughout Seattle. The programs primarily target low'income children. The Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) is an SEEC program that offers free preschool services to eligible children and seeks to develop skills and tools necessary to advance the child's education. The ECEAP, under the SEEC, supplies the necessary training to individuals within the agencies that service children in the ECEAP.

The Youth and Families Initiative, announced by McGinn in his inaugural address, seeks to identify the challenges Seattle's children and their families face, and collectively find solutions to help children succeed. The Initiative has four phases: Large Group Workshops, Community Caucuses, the Kids & Families Congress and Action Planning Groups.

The first phase, Large Group Workshops, was held from February 22 to March 22. During it, approximately 120 attendees separated into groups of ten to discuss issues facing youth and families. Each group had a facilitator and elected one delegate to attend the Kids and Families Congress later in the year. There were a total of six workshops, five of which the general public participated in, and one that was for students from public schools.

Under the Initiative, Community Caucuses were set up between March 22 and April 30 for those individuals who were not able to attend the group workshops so that they could contribute their thoughts and ideas. There were 131 Community Caucuses held throughout the city, each caucus elected one delegate to send to the Kids and Families Congress, held on June 5. At the Kids and Families Congress, the input provided in the first two phases was gathered and put into action plans to address the priority issues identified.

The final phase, Action Planning Groups, includes delegates, legislators, city staff and experts who will meet from September through December to develop more detailed plans and identify financial and additional resources necessary to implementing those plans.

McGinn, a member of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Public Schools Task Force, continues to support the current programs established to improve the public schools system and support the advanced education of Seattle's children.