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VOTE411 Voter Guide

Highline School District No. 401 Director District No. 1

4-year term. No salary, but some districts offer small per diem for evening meetings. School Board members, or “directors,” are the elected governing body of the school district, serving four-year terms. The school board’s governance responsibilities fall in four major areas: Vision – a focus on student achievement through a comprehensive strategic planning process; Structure – prudent financial planning and oversight, as well as diligent and innovative policy-making; Accountability – specific goals and a process for evaluating, reporting and making recommendations for improvements; and Advocacy – championing public education in the local community and before state and federal policy makers. The School Board sets the general policies of the district, which are implemented by the hired professional district superintendent and certificated teaching staff and personnel. One of its critical duties is the adoption of the district's budget and proposal of any school levies to be placed on the ballot to the people. The board sets policies and approves all spending via the budget. It also sets salaries for school district employees.

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    Tracy Castro-Gill

  • Candidate picture

    Aaron Garcia

Biographical Information

What unique qualities about yourself, your experiences, and your education separate you from the other seekers of this office?

What, in your opinion, are the three most pressing issues facing your school district at this time?

How would you address the one at the top of your list?

How would you balance educational opportunities between schools?

How would you assure the safety of all students in your schools?

What are the issues that need to be addressed to provide racial equality in the schools?

How should technical training be offered in the secondary schools?

How can the schools provide adequate education for homeless, immigrant, refugee and non-English speaking children at all levels?

Phone (760) 964-4328
Experience (300 characters max) I have been an educator for 7 years and was recently named the 2019 PSESD Regional Teacher of the Year. I have taught middle school students and university students. I have been engaged in union organizing and district level administration.
I am the only award-winning educator running for this position. I have the most diverse experience in education, having taught middle school, high school, and teacher candidates at the university level. My current role is Ethnic Studies Program Manager for Seattle Public Schools, where I have been involved in building a new, K-12, interdisciplinary program from the ground up.

I am the only candidate who has proven experience in transforming a school district as part of a grassroots organizing effort that has included students, educators, and community organizations.

I am Chicana and have overcome many of the same obstacles our students in Highline face, including teenage pregnancy, addiction, homelessness, and domestic abuse. I understand what it takes to survive as a woman of color with all the odds stacked against you. I am the only candidate that has gone from high school dropout to doctoral student because I believe in the power of education for liberation.
The three most pressing issues facing Highline School District are racial inequities for students and educators, lack of sustainable sources of income, and lack of community engagement.

Students of color continue to be underserved at egregious rates. In a district that serves a population that is 77% students of color we must do better. One way we can better serve students of color is to support, recruit, and retain educators of color.

Highline needs to prioritize with their dollars. The Board needs to advocate at the State level for fully funding education, and in the meantime, Highline needs to apply renewable sources of income to the programs we claim to prioritize. No more private funds for needed programs.

School districts, in general, conflate “engagement” with communication, and it’s usually one-way communication. Other forms of “engagement” tend to tokenize people and communities of color, exploiting their emotional and intellectual labor to rubber stamp initiatives.
Achieving racial justice requires a systemic approach. It can no longer be a side project relegated to a “diversity” department. Every staff member at every level needs to be trained in racial equity literacy. We need to listen to students, families, and educators of color and respond to their needs. Too often, white leadership takes the lead on attempts to transform institutions to better serve people of color. This is backwards thinking. We need strong leaders of color at all levels to create these transformations.

The Equity Policy is a good start and it includes strong language and some accountability measures for the Superintendent. We need to build on that create accountability measures for everyone in the system. The Superintendent can’t do it alone.

We need to eliminate the obsession of grading schools on standardized testing outcomes. These tests are racist in their origins and continuing to use racist tools will only result in racist outcomes. No more toxic testing.
Equitable distribution of resources is the only way to “balance” opportunities. We need to identify the students and schools that need the most support and fund them appropriately from sustainable sources of revenue. We can no longer use “equality” to “balance” opportunities. More need equals more dollars.

Eliminating standardized test results as a measure of need is also necessary. Need should be based on poverty rates, homelessness, trauma, and education needs such as special education support and English language learner support.
Nobody can “assure” the safety of all students in schools, but we can create policy and practice that increases safety for all students. Often, “safety” refers to physical safety, but we forget emotional and psychological well being.

Students need school to be a safe place or they don’t learn. This includes having teachers and administrators who look and think like them. It includes having content and instruction that is relevant, engaging, and challenging.

Students need a community in which everyone is loved and welcomed, including those who would cause harm to other students through bullying behavior. Students who bully do so because they lack love, skills, or basic needs. Social emotional learning is key to preventing this type of behavior.

We also need safe buildings and facilities for students. We need upgrades and remodels for our schools.
I have addressed this in previous questions, but ALL issues need to be racial equity issues. Race and identity impact every aspect of decision making.

We need ethnic studies now. All students benefit from learning the real history of this country that includes every person who has helped build it by force or by personal agency.

We need educators of color.

We need all staff to be racial equity literate. Every person employed by Highline should be able to identify and respond to racial injustice when they see it.

We need to end the practice of toxic standardized testing that most negatively impacts students of color and perpetuates systemic oppression.
We must be very careful about how we offer technical training. Many times, it is offered more in schools that serve higher populations of students of color. This sets up the paradigm that students of color aren’t fit for higher education.

Technical training is an important offering that all students should have the opportunity to explore and so it should be offered as an exploratory option. It should not be sold as a “trade” option. People don’t know what they don’t know, and offering it as an exploratory option may open up doors students never considered.
The first thing we need to move away from to serve these populations of students is compliance. Zero-tolerance policies on behavior, attendance, course work, and assessments only create larger disparities in outcomes for these students who are the most vulnerable. We need a more culturally responsive approach that includes compassion and acceptance for the lives students live outside of our classroom walls.

English language learner programs need to be enriched with culturally responsive practices instead of being treated as a remedial program. Multi-literacy is a strength and these students have super powers! Racial equity literacy will help educators value the strengths our non-English speaking students come to us with.

Curriculum that reflects the lived experiences of our students, including homelessness and geo-political conflict will help our students feel seen and will engage them in their learning. We cannot shy away from the ugly truth our students experience.
Phone (206) 817-9327
Town where you live White Center, WA
Experience (300 characters max) White Center Community Development Association (CDA)- Community Inclusion Manager- The White Center CDA works to eradicate poverty and eliminate racism by building a vibrant, economically diverse community.
For the past nine years I’ve committed myself to serving the White Center community, where I was raised. I’ve worked directly in the Highline Public Schools(HPS) K-12 system as a College and Career Specialist through a Federal TRiO grant helping first-generation, low income students reach their postsecondary goals. I am a Evergreen and Tyee as a volunteer wrestling coach for 8 seasons. Currently, I work as a community organizer for the White Center Community Development Association (CDA). The CDA provides early learning, family engagement and affordable home advocacy support for HPS. I’ve been co-chair on the Capital Facilities Advisory Council(CFAC). I am the co-chair of the Yes for Highline campaign that successfully approved the last Highline levy. I am a founder of the the Evergreen Wolverine Booster Club and together with a group of parent and community volunteers we've raised over $100k in donations, contributions and grants. 100% of the proceeds of go to WC youth.
(Housing scarcity) (Mental Health) (Institutional Racism)This issue must be in the forefront of all public service sectors. 1220 Highline students faced housing scarcity in 2018 and likely, experts would say this number is under reported. Students can’t reach self-actualization if they’re worrying where they will take shelter after school. I would like to follow the lead of Everett school district in the partnerships with local affordable housing agencies in using surplus land for housing.Considering our communities are battling with a scarcity of resources and opportunity, while navigating systems that are inherently racist and designed not to serve them, we serve a higher portion of students who need support with behavioral health to make sure that adverse childhood experiences (ACES) don’t negatively impact their learning potential. Many of our students have experienced trauma and they require that we provide trauma informed care to help cope and be successful.
In order to make a dent in this housing crisis, we have to take a regional intergovernmental approach. All the players, be they Municipal, County, State etc., have to start working together to help get this housing accessibility crisis under control. I understand how complex and intertwined this issue is. In my current role as the Community Inclusion Manager for the White Center Community Development Association, we’re working on a long-term strategic plan for community owned affordable housing development projects for White Center. I sat on the community advisory committee that brought Mary’s Place to White Center and I currently sit on the Camp Second Chance Community Advisory Board. In fact, I spent last weekend helping build Tiny Homes at this Seattle sanctioned homeless encampment. This issue must be in the forefront of conversations as a member of the School Board because 1220 Highline students faced housing scarcity in 2018. Likely, experts say underreported.
I will continue to advocate for increased funding from our state legislature and be a strong advocate for ongoing funding through bonds and levies, as I have as the co-chair of the Yes for Highline Campaign. I'm committed to finding a sustainable funding source for the arts, health and fitness. Too often we scale back on these programs even though we know that these are areas that support the social emotional learning of our young people. I believe in the next four years we can identify priority areas for a dedicated levy that is committed to the arts and physical health education. If we want to be able to compete with salaries of other regional school districts that have affluent communities, which are able to stretch a dollar. Then we have to find ways to make sure Highline teachers are getting paid on par with their peers from surrounding districts.
My values are grounded in racial equity and system change. I will not support policies that reinforces the school to prison pipeline. I believe we should be grounded in accountability based restorative justice practices that help both students and staff grow and heal from negative experiences and behavior. I would like to work on a plan in partnership with local law enforcement agencies, educators, families and students on a way to phase out the need for School Resource Officers, because we have created safe and accountable environments in our schools. This will allow us to redirect resources back to supporting our students and put more dollars into programs and professional development focusing on behavioral health.
My values and work is grounded in undoing institutional racism. Any new policy or procedure I see I first look to make sure it will not disadvantage nor disenfranchise any certain group whether intentionally or by oversight of it’s consequences. My organization was recently awarded a three year, $899,880 annual grant that is focused on disrupting racist practices in the education system. Over the summer we are compensating educators for their time and providing professional clock hours so that we can work with them, families and students to develop strategies for how to make all Highline Schools racially equitable institutions for all. I also hope to expand Highline Future Teacher Fellowship to include POC para-educators that grew-up in the Highline School District, who would like to be teachers in their community.
I am committed to expanding our school district trades program, Puget Sound Skill Center and aligning regional strategies like South Seattle College recent Title III grant which has a special emphasis on students of color, first-generation students, and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds getting access to career pathways like the trades.HSD401’s promise is that “Every student in Highline Public Schools is known by name, strength and need and graduates prepared for the future they choose.” Our new generation of leaders should have access to expanding industry opportunities that provide livable wages and these opportunities should come from the very district helping them prepare to join the workforce.
(Institutional racism) My values and work is grounded in undoing institutional racism. Any policy or procedure I work on will be rooted in racial equity to make sure it does not disadvantage nor disenfranchise a certain group whether intentionally or by oversight of it’s consequences. My organization was recently awarded a three year, $899,880 annual grant that is focused on disrupting racist practices in the education system. Over the summer we are compensating educators, many from HPS, for their time and training in helping lead this work in the White Center Community. We also plan to work with families and students to develop strategies for how to make all Highline Schools truly equitable institutions for all.