You know something is very dysfunctional in the Seattle Public Schools when the District and a distinguished non-profit honor a local principal (Kaaren Andrews of Madrona School) whose school has a reputation for disrespecting a certain group of parents and essentially telling them to take their children out of the school if they’re unhappy with their treatment. And there’s much worse. I’ll give you the backstory later. But first this bit of news that shocked and enraged me both as a local Madrona resident and parent of a public school student:
Seattle school district leaders, Madrona staff, friends and even Andrews’ parents gathered Wednesday morning in the school’s library to award Andrews the Thomas B. Foster Award for Excellence for outstanding leadership.
…The Alliance for Education and Seattle Public Schools academic leaders choose an annual recipient for the $50,000 Foster award, named for Tom Foster, a founder of the Seattle law firm Foster Pepper and a Seattle civic leader.
…Seattle Public Schools Chief Academic Officer Carla Santorno praised Andrews’ consistent work on student achievement.”Success with kids is not magic,” she said. “It’s about hard work.”
Madrona was historically an African-American, low-income neighborhood that has been changing over the last ten to twenty years. Madrona School has always had a high minority enrollment and a low academic achievement record. About six years ago, a group of local parents (mostly non-minority) decided they would enroll their children in the School and organize to raise funds to supplement what the District offered it and enrich the curriculum. Their motives were to turn the School into one that every resident and student could be proud of; an integrated school that had a good academic record with enriched offerings for any student who wished to partake. After beginning with high hopes and the support of the then principal (not Andrews), things turned sour. Minority parents and staff came to believe the parents wanted to “take the school over” from them. They resented the efforts to enrich the program.
The new parents in turn felt unwelcome and disrespected. For example, the group offered to raise money to fund a teaching position in a foreign language. Andrews told them the School didn’t want or need such a program. A foreign language was a “frill” the School and its students didn’t need and couldn’t afford. What the students needed was to pass standardized tests and offering a foreign language would be a distraction.
Now for a personal story that was very disturbing. A few years ago, my three children were picnicking at Madrona Playfield around 10:30 AM next to the basketball court with two adult friends accompanying them. All of a sudden a group of 50 or so Madrona middle school students ran toward the basketball court and a fight commenced between two children. Not only did the swirling mass of children frighten my children and endanger their safety, the students were screaming the foulest language imaginable.
One of our adult friends attempted to intervene (no supervisors or teachers were in the park at the time), but the fighting students ignored her. The adults decided to remove our children from the park and come home. On their way out of the park, they saw someone who seemed to be affiliated with the School go to the children congregated on the basketball court. The adults didn’t have any conversation with this person.
When they came home they alerted me to what happened. I immediately called the School to complain. I reached the principal who told me she had been the person going over to the group when my family left. I complained to her about the lack of supervision of the children and their endangering my own children. She replied that her students had every right to be in a public park and that they were unsupervised because that day was a “late start” day and there was no reason for the School to be expected to provide supervision since School hadn’t officially started when the incident occurred. She assured me the incident had been “taken care of” and there was nothing else that needed to be done. She made clear that she felt she had fulfilled her obligation to listen to me and that would be the last of it as far as she was concerned.
In short, I felt disrespected. Andrews didn’t get it. She discounted my concern over my children’s safety and discounted the need to supervise her own students outside of the School grounds. I decided to post about this at Madrona Moms, a local Yahoo! discussion group. While a number of parents thanked me for my courage and candor in reporting this incident, Madrona School parents posted to the group attacking me for “washing dirty linen” in public, for tearing down the School, for being racist, etc. It was most discouraging.
Then the Madrona Community Council president invited me to attend the monthly meeting of the group to discuss the incident. When I arrived, I was shocked to find the small group of local residents overwhelmed by the principal, assistant principal, the District’s race and equity coordinator, several School parents and a teacher from the School. After presenting what happened, Andrews in response had the chutzpah to say that my two adult friends had approached her in the park after the incident and berated her saying: “How can you waste your time on these kids? What do you see in them?” This of course was an outright lie as I mentioned that my friends had no conversation with Andrews whatsoever. It was an attempt to grandstand before the meeting and elicit racial sympathy for herself, her School and her students.
This is clearly a woman who, while clearly committed to her School and students, is so defensive and protective that the least criticism is viewed with tremendous hostility. Instead of engaging with reasonable and constructive criticism the response is to circle the wagons and cry racism. What kind of school is this and what kind of school district is this that rewards this type of mentality with a distinguished award?
The race and equity coordinator complained that my expression of concern for my own children’s safety was racist. Apparently, white parents who are nervous when fights break out in their neighborhood park are racists. In truth, one of the fighting students was white and the other African-American. The group that congregated around them was also mixed. I didn’t view this fight as a racial incident in any way. Only one resident attending the meeting expressed any understanding or support for my point of view. Even the MCC vice-president chairing the meeting attacked my motives.
I was shocked. I felt ganged up on. I then vowed to complain to Andrews’ District supervisor. I called her twice and received no answer. I then called the Superintendent’s office. All of a sudden, Andrews’ supervisor called me. We had a long talk and she acknowledged many of my criticisms as legitimate and said the School would now supervise “late start” days in the park.
Regardless of any of this, the truth is that Kaaren Andrews doesn’t want white parents at this School who do anything other than accept the educational agenda offered by the School. Any white parents who seek to enrich the School or offer programs not deemed central to Andrews’ philosophy are implicitly invited to leave. No effort is made to make white parents or students feel welcome in a student body that is 77% minority. Hostility to white parents is palpable, which is a further reason why they take their students out of the School in droves. Only 9% of the student body is “Caucasian” as the District statistics note.
Besides which, Madrona failed the No Child Left Behind standards and was forced to allow any parent to remove their children and place them in another public school. The students who leave in turn place a great burden on neighboring public school like Stevens and McGilvra, expected to take on the departing students. So instead of embracing parents attempting to get the School to succeed academically, Andrews turns her back on them and turns her School into a racial enclave. This in turn drives non-minority students away.
My wife and I vowed that none of my children would ever attend Madrona School as long as Andrews was principal and this racial isolationist attitude prevailed. As a result, my son attends TOPS, an alternative public school dedicated to a social justice theme. TOPS is a far more diverse school than Madrona AND it is devoted to the concept of multiculturalism and respect for all ethnic groups. There my child is learning how to appreciate people of all ethnic groups and to be inclusive and respectful to everyone regardless of race, color or religion. I’m afraid this is not a lesson that he would learn at Madrona.