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State Superintendent Chris Reykdal’s Interview with Inside Olympia

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Editor’s Note: This is an important interview which slipped under the radar of many parents and educators.

In it, State Superintendent Chris Reykdal talks about McCleary and education funding, Plus, Reykdal explains parts of his plan to redesign K-12 education and the importance of technology to his vision.  

Please take the time to read the transcript and share your thoughts in the comment section. I think there’s a lot to talk about.  

The interview can be seen here. Below is a transcript of the interview. 

-Carolyn Leith

Well a couple things. On the political front I would say, look at our levy passage rate around the state, folks in our state love their schools, they trust their local schools, which is why as much of this has to be in local controls hands as possible. The the further you get from people on the ground the more skeptical they get. So they’ll tolerate a package in Olympia that supports schools but gives their districts the ability to have some flexibility. The further up you go the less they’re gonna trust that for one. The other thing is we’re doing things very differently in this state. I I mean I wish we could spend an hour on your show going through twenty years of education reform to talk about what we’re doing: more math, more science, more English language arts, more rigor in the curriculum, more expectation of teachers, a better evaluation system, a school rating system, our achievement index. All of that by the way is getting reimagined right now because we owe a consolidated accountability report if you will to the federal government by September. And we’re writing that plan now. You’re gonna see variables in that achievement index where we, where we look at schools way beyond test scores, which we oversimplified. You’re gonna see things like chronic absenteeism and whether or not they’re at this critical benchmark, 9th grade success…and whether they’re getting dual credit for courses in the 11th and 12th grade. We are doing things very differently in public schools. I would argue a little humorously, most of the cynics of reform have not stepped in a classroom. If you go into a classroom today and see what’s happening, from a, from a third grade teacher, all the way to a high school science teacher, you would see a very different experience than when you went to school.

-Chris Reykdal

Inside Olympia, April 27th 2017

Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal with Austin Jenkins.

Jenkins:  As you complete your first 100 days, a former state lawmaker yourself, what are your, there’s a little bit of déjà vu no doubt going on, but what is your thought, as we begin this special session, and legislators find themselves kind of right back where they were two years ago, in a budget standoff.

Reykdal: Well I don’t think it’s surprising, given the magnitude of what they’re dealing with. The good news is, the court I think is still abundantly clear in their original order, that this is about making sure that the state fully funds basic education. The court did not say it has to be a levy reduction, that process, although I think there’s lots of reason why I think people want to implicate local school levies. They didn’t say there had to be some massively different structure in collective bargaining, even though that’s a political interest of some in the conversation. So, I’m not surprised that this fairly straightforward requirement meets politics. That’s just the nature of this place. Our house and senate are not just dealing with education funding. There are those preserving the social safety net, there are those who want a tax conversation, or a tax reform conversation, or tax reduction conversation. So in the context of all that, probably the biggest education session in our history, I’m not surprised it’s taken more than 105 days. But we, we certainly want to keep supporting them as they as they get to that inevitable place where they have to give up things in order to get compromise. And that is, that is a tough word in America right now, but it’s necessary here.

Jenkins: How concerned are you that whatever compromise they come to, ultimately will, will fall short of the court mandate, and creating a constitutional system.

Reykdal: Well based on the size of the proposals that have been put forward on both sides, and again, you know in your intro you point out that they take a pretty different approach on how to pay for it, but the size and the magnitude of those investments for the state’s contribution, again, not considering local levy opportunity, they’re relatively similar. You’re talking about adding a couple billion dollars. That’s gonna be remarkable progress that the court can see is evidence of completing the task by next year.  It may not be down to every penny, but I believe there will be such inertia in the final deal that you will, you will sit here and say that’s, that along with some economic growth and a few changes next year, will get us there. Part of that is do they lump all the money in the second year of the biennium so that (byways?) into something significant and fully funds McCleary, or do they kind of spread that out over two years and have quite a task next biennium. That’s, those small decisions seem kind of technical, but they matter a lot.

Jenkins: Yeah, your predecessor Randy Dorn often used a number, a dollar amount, that he was looking for that he considered full funding. And he was always on the high side, I mean, above the governor, above just about anybody else, rolling in a lot of things. But when you ask the, the lead plaintiff’s lawyer on the McCleary case, whether either the house plan or the senate plan are sufficient, he’s skeptical. Is there a number that you’re using, and a number that your office has identified as the right target number for increased funding at least over the next two years?

Reykdal: Yeah, but I’m gonna be clear that there’s the absolute minimum in order to meet a court interest, which I think is sort of the least common denominator in this debate. Just satisfying the court is not our real purpose. But that number to me and based on what we have to do to ensure that compensation is covered by the state…

Jenkins: Maybe I should stop you there and maybe just explain that the key thing left to do, that the court has identified is for the state to take over, paying the full freight, for teacher and staff and administrator salaries, and benefits, some of which right now are being handled by local levies.

Reykdal: Right, and I think, our analysis of that number and we’ve refreshed those numbers in the last week, we think that a minimum, that’s a billion and a half dollars a year, so three billion a biennium, just to comply with the technical direction of the court, which is to pick up basic ed costs with the state. I think the reason the number gets higher for folks, and it ought to, is that’s gonna be the technical definition, but won’t fundamentally change our level of investment for special education. So you might technically argue that that number covers basic ed, but we know we’re underfunding special education. We know we don’t have career and tech ed programs funded to where they need to be. You have a dropout rate that persistently hangs at 20 percent. That doesn’t change the intervention strategies per se. So if, if we’re here to fund an education system and get better, and help students and close gaps, and help our business community, that number begins to get to 2 ½ or 3 billion dollars a year, and the metric that I use to just say well, what would be an objective thing that democrats and republicans can’t really argue with, and that is the level of investment of our economy that we put back into our public schools. And the rest of the country it’s 3.6 percent of the economy, in our state it’s about 2.9 or 3 percent. It seems small, but if you moved another ½ percent of GPD in our state into education, you’d be looking at about 3 billion dollars a year, six billion a biennium, twice as much as the technical number, to meet the court interest. And I think they ought to be shooting for that over the next couple biennium.

Jenkins: So, I know, asking you again to put your former lawmaker hat on, what would you do if you were in the legislature? How would you fund, at that level you’re talking about, which to your way of thinking is the optimal and right level?

Reykdal: Well I do think the answer sort of sits in front of them. I think between the house and senate they have the right combination. There’s no scenario where you don’t utilize some property tax in there, because, and I and I say this with a little bit of crystal balling, you have to at some point adopt something in a bi-partisan way that, that then potentially the voters say, well we want our say through referendum. The one tax in the state constitutionally dedicated public schools that you can make an absolutely crystal clear statement to the voters, we’ve raised this tax and it will be spent on it, is the state property tax.

Jenkins: And point in fact, the republican plan does create a new state property tax levy for this purpose.

Reykdal: It does indeed and so I think that’s part of the solution. But unfortunately, on balance it’s a significant tax shift and so to my earlier comments, if you’re here to do multiple things, not just fund schools, but tax fairness and all the rest of the the ambition, you can’t just lower taxes in some communities and raise them in others and say we’re good to go. So I think the house democrats have big concepts that should win out in the end. We should be collecting all of our sales tax in this state, tax fairness, and if somebody is being exempted for reasons we can’t quite justify anymore, internet sales, people in Oregon and Idaho purchasing, we ought to be doing that as well. So I think there’s a compromise here that really works.

Jenkins: And that is one of the proposals on the table that house democrats have come up with, a pretty significant tax package, including a new capital gains tax, changes to the B and O tax, but there is also talk of, I think they call it the Marketplace Fairness Act, which was thought to have, to be something that the feds would do, or congress would do, to capture internet sales. But now there’s some thought that the state could do it. So, one of the criticisms of the senate republican plan is that while they create this new property tax levy, they eliminate local levies. And then a question, the question becomes how much, what’s the net new dollars to my system, or is it just a a shift? How concerned are you about the elimination of the local levies?

Reykdal: Yeah, I’m I’m actually very concerned about that. Because again, you can meet the technical interest of the court and not add much new resource, and then we’re not actually changing results for kids and we’re not being more effective in public education. So, the court never said you had to lower local levies. That is a political desire, if you raise state property tax to fully fund, it’s a political interest to then say, and we’re gonna offer you tax relief over here, completely understandable. Again, I think there can be some of that. We probably don’t need 24 and 28% levies if you’re gonna add a billion and a half or two billion dollars to the state side. But I think 10% is too low, and that was their number. I would suspect in the end they might get awfully close in satisfying the court and leave the debate open to the final days and weeks of some special session on how much local levy they’re gonna allow. I would leave that number quite high actually. I don’t think it’s appropriate to ever tell a local community that you cannot, through a vote of the people, support your kids more. I think that’s a strange and artificial Olympia constraint that we ought not put on local communities.

Jenkins: Of course you occupy a non-partisan office today. You were, you are a former democratic state lawmaker. What do you say to your, to to democrats about the idea…’cause you mention this this notion that whatever they pass might be subject to a referendum. Either, I mean the senate republican plan actually calls for a a referendum clause, and voter approval on this property tax approach. It’s possible that voters who don’t like what they see could also force a referendum, on whatever comes out of this this legislature. What, what’s your message to democrats with respect to this idea, like a new tax, something like the capital gains tax which has been criticized as volatile, not necessarily reliable, perhaps doesn’t meet the test that the Supreme Court has set, which is amply fund, with a reliable source of funds?

Reykdal: Well it certainly can be volatile. I think they’ve got a notion that helps it out a lot. They only presume a certain percentage of that in the base, and then there’s some, some dedication of that volatility over time. That’s exactly the kind of resource though that if this state’s really serious about tax fairness, and and not sort of the President’s one pager he put out yesterday, but real substantive change in Washington, you gotta start walking down that path given that virtually all other states have something like that, it makes sense. It will be hard. It’s part of that compromise process. And I don’t worry about the voters rejecting something if it’s gone through really rigorous debate. In particularly if you get a bipartisan deal in the end. And there’s democrats and republicans and labor and business supporting the final package. That will carry the day. They will, they will make clear through their channels, the importance of this in the larger scheme of Washington’s tax code, not just supporting schools. So I, my advice to both sides is be courageous and be bold and stay at the table, and take risk, and listen to each other, and get a deal that you can both support, so that universally, you know, from the Idaho border to the Pacific Ocean, we can tell voters, this is really good for kids.

Jenkins: Let me ask you about the skepticism I sometimes hear among members of the public. And it just happened last week. I was talking with somebody who was here in Olympia, lives up in Seattle. And, and just made an off-hand comment about, oh, they’re gonna put a bunch more money into education and we’re not gonna get, essentially we’re not gonna get much for that, for those dollars. It’s this notion that we pay for inputs but not outputs. You were starting to get to this a little bit in terms of what you think the system needs to elevate all students. But but stepping back from that even. There is a skepticism out there among some people that we are investing in a system that produces results. How do you respond to that?

Reykdal: Well a couple things. On the political front I would say, look at our levy passage rate around the state, folks in our state love their schools, they trust their local schools, which is why as much of this has to be in local controls hands as possible. The the further you get from people on the ground the more skeptical they get. So they’ll tolerate a package in Olympia that supports schools but gives their districts the ability to have some flexibility. The further up you go the less they’re gonna trust that for one. The other thing is we’re doing things very differently in this state. I I mean I wish we could spend an hour on your show going through twenty years of education reform to talk about what we’re doing: more math, more science, more English language arts, more rigor in the curriculum, more expectation of teachers, a better evaluation system, a school rating system, our achievement index. All of that by the way is getting reimagined right now because we owe a consolidated accountability report if you will to the federal government by September. And we’re writing that plan now. You’re gonna see variables in that achievement index where we, where we look at schools way beyond test scores, which we oversimplified. You’re gonna see things like chronic absenteeism and whether or not they’re at this critical benchmark, 9th grade success…and whether they’re getting dual credit for courses in the 11th and 12th grade. We are doing things very differently in public schools. I would argue a little humorously, most of the cynics of reform have not stepped in a classroom. If you go into a classroom today and see what’s happening, from a, from a third grade teacher, all the way to a high school science teacher, you would see a very different experience than when you went to school.

Jenkins: But it sounds like one of the areas that you are very concerned about is that you don’t think the supports are sufficient.

Reykdal: That’s exactly right. We’re we’re running the numbers now again and and the good news stories, our students are taking more core credits than they ever have, and why wouldn’t they? The new high school diploma requires that. Even our high school drop-outs are taking more math, science, and English language arts. The system is responding as policy makers have wanted, and we still have a 20 percent or so drop-out rate, and now we’re learning that two-thirds of those drop-outs are in the senior year. We keep them longer than we ever have, they take more of the classes that folks have asked them to take, and we still lose them in their senior year. That’s not because they’re cognitively struggling per se. They get to this place where they say, I’m not sure the relevancy of this. Or I gotta get to work because my family cannot afford to not have me doing that. There are wraparound services for kids that are the difference in their lives. Which is why I’m so sympathetic to the house democrats who say, yes this is hard work, but it shouldn’t just be revenue neutral, and it shouldn’t be cut everything else in state government just to fund K-12. It’s a move all of this together to support students.

Jenkins:  Well, let me ask you about that though because it, you’ve led to the next question that was in my mind. And I know the resistance, especially among many state lawmakers, to writing a state budget in comparisons to a home budget. But everybody gets the idea that every month, if you own a house, the first and foremost thing you have to do is pay your mortgage. And then after that, you kind of go from there, right? And if you have kids, sort of at that bottom of that list is there anything leftover for some summer camp, or for some, you know, music lessons, or for some extras, right? But you’ve gotta carry, you’ve gotta deal with the fundamentals first. The the state constitution, and the McCleary decision, in no uncertain terms say, the state’s paramount duty is to fund, amply fund basic education. Why can’t the approach be as, for budgeting, to do that first? And then, have a conversation about what else state government should do, and how we’re gonna pay for that, and perhaps ask tax payers what they’re willing to pony up in addition. It seems like that’s a logical approach and conversation, and yet when you ask that question, especially of democrats, no no no no no, we can’t do it that way. Why not?

Reykdal: Mmmmhm. Well actually I’d argue that the first obligation’s debt (laughing). There’s big consequences if you don’t pay debt service in this state…

Jenkins: Which I guess is sort of like paying your mortgage…

Reykdal: Right. Like paying your mortgage.  And then what do you do, you feed your family,right?

Jenkins: Right.

Reykdal: You do those basic essentials at home. So there is some appropriate comparison here. And education is the paramount duty. I mean, you’re not gonna get an argument here from me as state school superintendent. But it’s just naïve to believe that that the future of our state is to continue to grow that bucket at the expense of everything else, when we’re reaching record economic growth in our state.

Jenkins: But if, but if, as a former democratic office holder, again, now residing in a non-partisan role, when you think about talking to voters, why do democrats not wanna, or why are democrats so resistant to talking to voters about raising taxes for non-education items? Which actually if you think about it, at the local level, is usually the conversation. Were gonna pay for police and fire. If you want mental health, if you want to help the homeless, we’re gonna ask you to pay a little bit more. If you want mass transit…

Reykdal: Yeah.

Jenkins: …we’re gonna ask…right? But at the state level, if we’re gonna raise taxes, it’s always to pay for education.

Reykdal: I won’t speak for all democrats who want to raise taxes for some reason, nor will I speak for all republicans who wanna cut taxes in the middle of economic boom. I will say that there are communities all around the state who go directly to their voters and say, help us raise resources for homelessness or food programs, or supports, and the voters willingly do that. I would say it’s more an argument about the era of media, and maybe, and maybe this is a little bit on on you all, about the level of mistrust that accumulates in a voter, the further that decision gets away from them. They’ll support this stuff at the local level, they get more cynical in Olympia, and they’re absolutely cynical about the feds being able to solve problems. So you know, that’s, that’s for the politics of today to figure out, and and maybe there’s an appetite for it in a different way in the future. It’s also part of positioning. And that’s what democrats and republicans do, they they represent their base, and they come with their best argument. And right now this is I suppose where we are.

Jenkins: Let’s hit a few more issues here. One thing that the senate republicans do in their plan is they propose to move away with, from what’s been called the prototypical school model, where you fund the prototypical school. We won’t get into details about how you define that. They want to move to a per student funded model. I think ala Massachusetts. You get a base amount per student, and then students who have extra needs, special needs, homeless, would get additional dollars, based on those needs. Again, it seems like something that people can get. If you, if you tell the average member of the public, prototypical school model, or your kid gets this amount of money plus extras for their extra needs. Which one do they understand best? That one. Yet I’ve heard a lot of resistance to it. What, what are your thoughts on the, on the best approach?

Reykdal: Yeah, sometimes the simple message is the right one for politics, but probably not the right one for good policy. It is simple to say, hey every kid gets the same amount of money. The truth is it’s not even close to the Massachusetts model. In Massachusetts they start with the ability of the locals to raise money, so in Boston, in some of the urban areas with high values, the entire budget’s born by local voters. And then in the rest of the communities, the state’s picking that up, which is also a tax on those local or urban voters. And so the challenge in Massachusetts and this idea that, oh we love how simple it is because everyone knows their dollar amount, is is actually born back in that tax conversation. It’s because urban livers in Massachusetts are massively subsidizing folks in rural communities out there. And that might be the approach that some folks want. I mean the senate gets closer to that concept. I don’t think that’s the Washington way. I think our court has a very different expectation, our constitution does as well. It says it’s the state’s responsibility to amply and fully fund our paramount duty which is public education. So right or wrong we we have to work on solutions that the state picks up. And in that regard, the protypical school model kinda works. If you think about it. It does tell you how much money you’re getting in your school. And we are able to translate that down to per student. Now I think where the senate has a really important angle they’ve taken here is there’s so much conversation around English Language Learners, or special education students, or career and tech ed, or homeless youth, these things that we want to do, that are very targeted, where we wanna see a result and better accountability for the money. Having that be a factor, some percentage of basic ed, is not common sense. Telling students, if you are in this camp, your school’s gonna get an extra 500 dollars or thousand, or five thousand. People do, do understand that for that targeted reason, and I think that’s the compromise that’s coming.

Jenkins: Okay. We do have a teacher shortage in this state, and the governor just signed a bill aimed at addressing that. And it it deals with creating new, alternate pathways for someone to become certified to teach. As I understand it a board will actually be working on what those paths should be. But what optimism or confidence do you have that this, this new law will allow the state to start to address this shortage.

Reykdal: It’s part of the solution. And there’s no question we want really talented folks to come to the classroom. I I stand with lots of people on both sides of the aisle, that you still have to have a lot of rigor in that process and really competent folks, and the ability to evaluate them out if it doesn’t work out. Just because you’re a great software engineer, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re gonna come to public school and be a great math teacher. Those are different skill sets so… But opening up the pipeline, and considering this, particularly people who are already working in schools, they’re support staff, they’re paraeducators, I think they demonstrate the passion and the want, and they see excellent teaching and so it’s a good pathway. The truth is, the market is broken. And if it were a private sector business, back to the private analogy, and you couldn’t keep employees, you’d say, I have a market problem, and the first place you’d look is compensation. So getting the state to solve McCleary and pick up the bill, is a big step, but if it’s just neutral, it doesn’t change that market reality for the teachers. So we have to go beyond that. Starting pay has to go up a lot, and we have to continue to create financial incentives for educators, particularly with the booming economy of the Puget Sound. Yes people leave high school today, it is not top of mind the way it was twenty years ago to become a teacher. And we have to change that through market.

Jenkins: So, that gets back to this house and senate plan. Both of which, which would raise pay, but they approach pay for more experienced teachers very differently. I think senate republicans have said they don’t feel like the salary schedule is broken. They say that they haven’t seen evidence that overall we’re not paying enough. What are you looking for in a final plan in terms of compensation and and, a a salary structure and model?

Reykdal: I’m looking for them to first and foremost define basic ed compensation. They have a definition of basic ed for lots of other things the court was able to point to. This was an area where the court looked and said, we’re not sure what basic ed compensation means. Which is why they essentially said every dime being paid by local levies must be basic ed. I don’t necessarily believe that’s true. So they need to define basic ed very clearly. They need to amply fund it. Which means have the entire cost of basic ed compensation born by the state. And then they need to recognize though hat there are reasons for local communities to want to pay more, or add more. And the analogy I always use is that the formulas are driving five kindergarten teachers in your community, but your voters and your school board want to lower class size even further, we should absolutely allow you to raise local levies to hire a sixth kindergarten teacher.  Is that kindergarten teacher basic ed? Probably not. Because the formula’s told us what basic ed was. But we shouldn’t get in the way of local communities. And I believe this is what’s coming. Is the definition of basic ed compensation that’s much clearer for the court, I believe they will amply fund that, and in the end they’re gonna have a long political debate about how much resource to leave local communities, and I think they should leave them a lot of local levy authority. And make clear that if you’re gonna pay additional compensation, or you’re gonna hire additional staff with that money, that’s outside of basic ed.

Jenkins: But on the flip side, the court has also been very clear, that one thing that the that the legislature in the state needs to do, is to to pick up the cost of salaries and compensation, and to fund those salaries at a level that allows you to recruit and retain competent educators. So what does, what does that look like? Aside from what the local levies might be…

Reykdal: Yeah. I think it’s…

Jenkins: Do they need to blow up the salary schedule?

Reykdal: Well I don’t think they need to blow it up. In fact I think they need some salary schedule. Because local collective bargaining is a right of workers, and I support that. I think it’s gotta be simpler, lots of those schedules locally that are bargained, are driven by this complex 16 by 12 schedule or whatever it is at the state. I think the governor had the right idea here to really skinny that down, have four or five simple steps. The bottom line is, is you gotta have a higher starting salary, and from there you’ve gotta have slightly higher tiers to create that incentive for folks to come in. The other benefit of having higher salaries early in career, besides recruitment, is that it’s a significant benefit to Plan 3 retirees, those younger folks who come in and pick a market based retirement plan. They…

Jenkins: As opposed to a traditional pension?

Reykdal: Right, they want their resources early in their career for lifetime earnings. And so there’s a lot…

Jenkins: Well…

Reykdal: …a lot of wins here.

Jenkins: Is 45,000 dollars a year for a base starting salary, which I think both sides are proposing…

Reykdal: Yeah…

Jenkins: …sufficient?

Reykdal: I think they’re in the right ballpark, again for that state defined basic ed. And then you’ll have communities who say, that’s not quite enough for us, they should have the authority to go higher.

Jenkins: Except for those districts who could still be starting at 60, or 55, right?

Reykdal: Right.

Jenkins: With those add-ons. Okay. You had briefly touched on a moment ago, the chronically absent students, and how that can lead to lots of troubles, including dropouts. But a statistic that came out in April, that really surprised a lot of people, is that Washington was recently ranked 2nd worst in the nation for its number of chronically absent students. Washington State? How is this possible? How did that happen?

Reykdal: (laughs) Two things: A, we think there is a big problem and the research is really clear. So we’re building an achievement index, and an accountability data system that every voter, every person in the state can go look at their school district, and hopefully eventually their school, and drill in on those things that really matter. Kindergarten readiness, third-grade reading, and ninth grade failure, chronic absentee, we’re gonna give them the best thinking in education, so right down to their school they can see how they’re doing. Specifically to that issue, the one thing I would caution about is there is fifty different state definitions of what absent is, and even in our state there’s some big differences. So if, if in your school you’re ten minutes late, we say, hey, you’re absent from that class. In another school we go, ahh, our policy is fifteen minutes, you’re on time. We have a lot of definitional alignment to do in the next couple of years, and and we know there are states who say, if you’re on a school-sanctioned field trip, if you’re, if you’re at the Science Center on a school field trip, that’s not an absence. And in our state, we count that as an absence, for reporting. So, so I’d be careful of the ranking, but do not walk away from the importance of that data metric, and I think the legislature’s all over this. I think they’re gonna help us attack this problem. And you’re gonna see us keep putting resources into getting students there. And I know it sounds simple, but the old adage is, half the battle’s showin’ up.

Jenkins: Yeah. Well, so, in some places I think, you know a truancy officer will show up at your door. You come up with a slightly different approach. A call from one of your favorite Seahawks players. Let’s listen to, what some students who are missing school, are missing class, are hearing on their telephones. (plays audio clip)

    “Wake up, it’s Jermaine Kearse from the Seattle Seahawks. Get up and get to school. Don’t be left on   

     the sidelines. The future is all yours. All you have to do is show up. “

 

So this is a voicemail call that’s a robo-call, that you can send out. What’s the thinking here?

Reykdal: Well our schools, once again, have used technology in innovative ways to reach parents, almost real-time, when their student isn’t showing up. So that we don’t have that long gap. Remember when you were a kid and you didn’t show up, maybe your parents knew and maybe they didn’t? Maybe they got home at the end of the day and listened to a message. We have these real time systems now that are really powerful, that connect parents to school. And in this case, you know, we find somebody who’s got name recognition and and Jermaine’s really passionate about this. He’s a Washington kid, went to Lakes High School, Seahawk. And he’s helping us be one of many systems that say to kids, this is a big deal. They may not think it’s a big deal if it’s just the vice principal recording the message, but when a Seattle Seahawk calls you and says, you know, get to school, it matters, we think it has impact and we’re gonna keep doing more of that.

Jenkins: Okay, I know that, kind of, you are completing, like a lot of new elected office holders, your first hundred days. And you spent a lot of time on the campaign talking about career technical education, and a a need to give students avenues and pathways that may not entail a four-year degree. What have you been able to accomplish, in your first hundred days toward that goal.

Reykdal: Yeah, so one of the exciting things at OSPI is we we have new leadership in our CTE team and we’re actually merging that and our teaching and learning team, or learning and teaching team, depending on who you ask. Because we think CTE has this pathway of huge importance that needs to be elevated but it also has to be integrated well. We can’t see it as this separate thing, or this lesser thing. So we’re merging it with the team that’s really focused on high math standards and English standards and other standards. And so we think we’ve gotta get our house in order a little bit. We’re also partnering a course with the public and private sector on core plus and these other things where we are building certifications for students while they’re in high school that tells the employer community, and the higher ed community, this student is ready with a different set of skills than they’ve ever had and it’s industry and standards based. So that’s happening on the private sector side. And then in the legislature we’re continuing to say to them, you you you do have a test problem in this state. (laughs) We can have lots of debates on the weight of tests. It’s too much, quite frankly. We’re one of only a couple states with a comprehensive, high stakes exit exam. And the biggest problem isn’t that it drives students away in the end, which it does. Its biggest problem is that much earlier in their in their school career, they all believe that they are one-size-fits-all, and they must follow the same math pathway, the same ELA pathway, the same science pathway. And you’re losing students who’d say, I’d stay in school if you’d put me in a consruction trades program. I still wanna take math, but I want it applied to my job. That’s really not a viable pathway for kids. So we still have a legislative effort to get this straightened out.

Jenkins: Okay, and just in the last minute we have, what is the biggest surprise or lesson you have learned, as a candidate for office, you sort of had these visions of what it might be, but now that you’ve actually occupied the office for 100 days, what surprised you, or struck you.

Reykdal: Well what hasn’t, the good news is that I was in higher education for a long time in a state agency, so I understand a little bit of that culture. And then being a legislator, I get their world. So that’s been a really nice marriage to put to work right away. The surprise honestly is how receptive folks are to change that matters. They don’t just want you to spin the wheels because someone’s new in the seat. They want to see evidence, and and the employees at OSPI are so good at what they do, but they have high expectations that we connect this to better outcomes for kids. And that’s where the pressure is on me everyday, and I love that. They are really a remarkable group and I think we’re making big change fast.

Jenkins: Have you hit any barriers?

Reykdal: Well you do in a legislature, because you want the resources to flow. You want flexibility. And you wanna go up there with data and say this is the answer. But politics doesn’t always use empirical answers. Sometimes they use very political answers and so, it’s a barrier but it’s one I understand because maybe I was guilty of that myself at one point in time. So it’s, it’s okay though.

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