March 20, 2000
BOTHELL--Bothell native and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and Gov. Gary Locke discussed current education needs with Northshore School Dist. superintendent Dr. Karen Forys at West Hill Elementary in Bothell on Thursday, Mar. 16.
Forys started the meeting in the school library by stressing the importance of a solid reading foundation. She held up a picture from the Dick and Jane beginning reading series commonly used in the 1950s and '60s, and asked if anyone who recognized them knows why they aren't used today.
"We expect far more from students today," said Forys. "In the '50s and '60s, we taught to the students that were the easiest to teach" (commonly called "dumbing down").
Forys said West Hill is demonstrating how essential total community involvement will be to students meeting the new, higher standards. Success must include the legislature raising salaries for teachers who are feeling unappreciated and burned-out, and more volunteers in the classroom and in one-on-one tutoring. Although lauded by Murray as the state's Superintendent of the Year, Forys said, "the real heroes are not the superintendents, but the teachers and principals, those who are on the front lines every day."
Forys introduced Brian Narcisso, a fifth-grade student who spoke no English when he immigrated here from Mexico with his parents several years ago. Brian gave a stirring address with more polish and poise than most adults could muster.
"First, I want to thank my parents," said Narcisso. "They have encouraged me to work hard in school by taking away Play Station if I didn't have my homework done [drawing a big laugh from the audience]. When I first started school, kids would make fun of me because I couldn't speak much English. But many adults have helped build my confidence and skill level to achieve my goals. I want to be a singer and actor after I go to college, because my music teacher told me I have a good singing voice and said I should join the choir when I go to junior high and high school. I don't know where that came from, because nobody else in my family sings [more laughs]."
Narcisso thanked many of his teachers and Al Anderson, a Bothell firefighter, who has tutored him in reading for at least two hours every week. He turned to Murray and Locke and said he was honored to speak well enough to be able to meet them. Locke and Murray rose to thank Brian, shook his hand, and congratulated him on his achievements.
Locke spoke next, saying the state is taking steps to provide a statewide data system to gauge student progress in all school districts. He agreed with Forys that teachers need more pay, that they are "doing a more complex job than ever, with dignity and a lot of heart."
"The rising immigration population creates an incredible challenge," said Locke, a first generation Chinese-American and Yale graduate. "How do we get enough people to interpret Chinese, Spanish, Russian, and other languages for students whose primary language is not English? Educators and counselors are almost surrogate parents, but they can't do it all. That's why we need more community help in our schools."
Schools with solid core reading programs have shown progress rates twice those of schools without those programs, said Locke. He praised Washington Mutual Bank and Bank of America as examples of corporations who pay their employees for up to two hours a week for being reading tutors at local schools. The state needs to increase special programs for gifted and challenged students, in after-school and summer sessions, he said.
"Why not let school districts keep the tax money they now send to Olympia, where we aren't able to use that money for the same purpose?" Locke suggested. "We give the same type of tax breaks to cities, to allow them to build convention centers. We need to stay the course on the education reform called for by Washington parents and educators, and not rest on being above the national average. If the national average is getting two answers out of ten, and we're getting three, that's not good enough."
Locke also said we need to reward exceptional teachers with extra pay. He cited the legislature's recent approval of standardized tests for teachers, and praised Sen. Murray for introducing similar measures on the federal level.
Murray thanked Forys, Locke, state representatives Rosemary McAuliffe and Jean Edwards, and all parents and teachers who showed up. She said she was happy to be visiting just a few blocks down the road from where she graduated from Bothell High.
"Brian said it best when he listed every person who has helped him," said Murray. The federal government's role is to mainly help disadvantaged kids, those with cultural challenges and learning disabilities, she said. The rest is largely up to the local and state support.
"No schools fail to help kids," said Murray. "Adults fail, at the federal, state, and local levels, including all who fail to volunteer." Murray said she was happy to note that Brian named two adult helpers who were federally funded.