Seattle: Students & Space

In early October, the AASA Digital Consortium once again met for collaboration, inspiration, and readiness for the future of our students. We have been fortunate enough to travel around the country to see just exactly how schools, businesses, and communities are doing to ensure that their learners are ready for the future. We’ve been privileged to see some incredible developments, and, on this trip, we headed to Seattle, Washington.

Seattle is an amazing city with most notoriety going to Amazon, Starbucks, and Boeing. That being said, it’s just like any other American city and includes those who are impoverished and are in need. The public schools in the Seattle area are, as well, similar to those of other American cities: transient, poverty, high-minority, low-performing, lack of meaningful resources.

Do me a favor; forget that last sentence, because, while you would expect the same characteristics, there was a very different vibe going on in the Seattle-area Highline Public Schools.

Under the leadership of colleague and friend Dr. Susan Enfield, the Highline Public Schools embrace all socioeconomic levels and deal with all other pitfalls that face schools today. One of the aspects that makes Highline stand out is the business in the area. Boeing is literally in their backyard. The Museum Of Flight is about ten feet away from the edge of the first school we toured, Raisbeck Aviation High School.

Raisbeck started as a magnet-like school with students writings scads of essays and completing a myriad of other components in order to be accepted and attend. Today, it’s lottery-based, and some students even fly in every day to go to school. Let that soak in–kids flying to school. That’s how impressive this school is. While it certainly circulates around the aerospace field, all academics are covered and other offerings are given. Most, however, choose to go into the field of flight.

We started off by finding a spirit squad at the front door that high-fives every student and adult who enters. That little tidbit alone sets this school apart from many others. There are a student body and a staff who want to go to school, not play at doing so.

We then headed to Chinook Middle School located in SeaTac. The school has seen its challenges over the years–safety concerns from students, a high-transient population, and a staff that was not all on the same page, not to mention it’s a middle school, so tack the middle-school problems on as well. (I don’t care where you live, every middle school has middle-school issues). The vibe inside radiated positivity and integrity and fostered a collaborative mindset.

This was beyond clear in the media center, which was in the cocooning phase, morphing into a maker-space with learning materials to support the thought process. It was beyond cool to see how one person (the principal in this case) was working tirelessly with her staff to make the school a place where all wanted to go and was also providing the current resources needed for success. This was further evidenced when I sat in on a 7th-grade ELA class where students were brainstorming and writing their ideas on a Wordle cloud.

Our last school stop was at Midway Elementary School, a beautiful facility laced with natural light, smiling students, and student technology. As we toured the facilities, we heard several languages but saw the universal language of technology integration happening. I was most happy to see both ST Math and myON reading taking place in classrooms. I’m a bit biased towards both programs, as they have been essential in helping students make tangible progress in both math and reading comprehension.

We ended our time in Seattle with a tour of the Boeing factory, where around 520 planes are assembled each month. Each factory is the size of around nine football fields. You, too, can have your own commercial plane at the starting price of about 80 million. (There is a five-year waiting period and you need to put down 1/3 in cash; no credit is taken.)

The sheer magnitude of the entire operation can’t really be put into words. What can be are some of the simple facts:

  • Boeing is expanding rapidly.
  • Boeing is looking to hire 30,000 engineers over the next five years.
  • Boeing is trying to convey to schools in and out of the area that they need workers of all levels of education.
  • Boeing will pay 95% of your schooling.
  • Boeing will commit to you if you commit to them.

After the Boeing tour and their comments about schools today, it was crystal clear to me that many schools are not providing the skills that are needed for today’s workplace and society. Highline is bucking the trend and is doing all that it can to get our students ready. While we all don’t have Boeing in our backyards, we do have other factories, colleges, or farms.

We all should be mindful of whom we are serving and get them ready for today’s challenges, not those from 5 or 50 years ago. It is the Digital Consortium that not only reminds me of this but gives me ideas and opportunities that I can bring back to my own students and staff, and that’s why we are in the jobs we are in–to help all grow, learn, and continue to move…. wait for it…


Technology & Collaboration 



A few weeks ago, I met up with the AASA Digitial Consortium for the fall meeting. For those that aren’t familiar with the Consortium,the purpose of the consortium is to provide school district leaders the opportunity to work together as critical friends to learn and take action together, to gain insight into emerging and successful models of best practices using digital media in support of engaging end effective learning experiences.

While we were out getting a tour of the schools in the district, some fascinating experiences were to be had. While touring the schools, I couldn’t help to how some schools were older buildings and traditional schools, and others were more of a ‘build as you go’ set up. It turns out that they build large modular units based on enrollment and have an average lifespan of about 20 years. At another school, the design looked more like a campground with cabins in rows. In case, they were camp bunks; actually, they were Navy barracks. The base down the road donated the buildings to the school district. How cool is that?

During the tours, I ended up in a 6th grade STEM room.  They were in the midst of an activity where they had to design the perfect ‘bat-o-rang’ where batman had to slide down from the top of the building to the bottom, but can only do such with the items they had in the mystery bag. I sat down with one group who seemed like they were in the doldrums. They were irked; one student looked at me and said, “what can I possibly do with this thing? It’s all old and useless!” Old and useless?!?!?

That thing was a cassette tape recorder. There were also pieces of yarn, paper clips, pipe cleaners, and a screwdriver. Before I proceeded to go with my plan, I verified everything before breaking stuff.

I sat with the group, pulled out the cassette recorder, and asked if they knew what it was. All replied no. I sighed and proceeded to explained how it played audio. I also simultaneously broke out in a music lesson, sharing both some of my favorite cassettes singles that I bought in my awkward music years. After much humiliation, we focused back to the topic at hand.

We took apart the cassette player for parts to make the bat-a-rang work. We used batteries for power, the rollers in the player as a yoke, and used the plastic cover as a building top for the bat-a-rang to connect to. The students in the group were quick to catch onto the theme of the lesson; use everything that you have to make it work! We couldn’t get to stay together for the whole lesson, but he teacher emailed me later saying they went from dead last to 3rd place. Pretty cool for something that was old and useless.

  Like previous consortiums, the group met up and continued to exercise moonshot thinking and continue to collaborate with Google on best practices being us across the country.

The next morning, we finished our meeting by sharing a variety of ignite learning lessons & sessions that we’ve been learning as we gathered this weekend. It was fantastic!

addressing the consortium in Napa Valley, CA.

Overall, a fantastic weekend of learning. This job is not an 8-4, Monday to Friday job, and work is done at all hours of the day. Making then time to get to work with your tribe is essential for your success today.  Our job is to get the best for our students and staff; this consortium has truly helped me do just that.