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Seattle superintendent could get raise amid parent protest

Shine Sun holds a sign in quiet protest as Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Larry Nyland gave his state of the district speech at Seattle City Hall. (Sara Lerner)

Shine Sun had a busy day Thursday, but the one thing he wouldn’t miss was after school pick-up. It was a tough time for his 7-year-old, Sophia, who was finishing up a first day with a new teacher. The night before, she had been crying about losing her old one.

When she saw her dad, Sophia ran into his arms. “You okay?” he asked. She said, “yes.”

Sophia liked her old teacher and remembers what she told the class the day before she left.

“She told some of us things she liked about us and things she wanted us to learn this year,” Sophia said.

Sophia explains why her teacher left.

“Because people at another school offered her a job and she said ‘yes,'” Sophia said.

Sun says the teacher was incredible.

“You know the start of the year looked great,” he said. “This was going to be her second year with the students, my daughter being one of them. She was excited to partner with the parents and we were going to have monthly get-togethers, to be able to have more outside stuff to do with the kids.”

He said it was a surprise that three weeks later the teacher accepted a job in Tacoma, but he couldn’t blame her.

“I mean, the world fell apart,” he said.

According to Sun, it was the district’s teacher reassignments that were the problem. He says they ultimately led to his daughter’s classroom going from 22 to 28 kids, and five of them were children who need extra attention for various reasons, like behavioral problems.

“And then being told: you’re supposed to do it. It’s all you. One person,” he said. “That’s insane!”

Sun believes it’s a sign of how bad things are in the district; that Sophia’s teacher gave up and left to teach in Tacoma. He waves his hand and points to a rat trap outside the school, and rattles off a list of other problems there at Lowell.

“Last year, I think for a month and a half, or two months in the dead of winter, the kids had no heat. So they were going to school in their puffy jackets, mittens on. It took that long for the district to actually send someone out here to fix the heating,” he said.

Sun points to a nearby water facet at the elementary school.

“That water faucet hasn’t worked in, by last report, six or seven years,” he said.

He’s an anesthesiologist and says his family is lucky because they could put Sophia in private school if they want to, but he believes in public schools.

A couple hours before he picked up Sophia, Sun was at City Hall, listening and quietly protesting while Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Larry Nyland gave the annual State of the District speech.

“I think the work that our educators do stands up against any system that I’ve worked in,” Nyland said. “I’m just very proud of the work that our principals, our teachers, and our educators are doing.”

Sun and a couple dozen other parents didn’t say a word, but held up signs throughout the entire 40 minute speech. Sun’s read, “Classrooms 1st! NOT classrooms last!”

Nyland talked about less suspensions in the schools, combating opportunity gaps, about how he had made it a point to visit every school in the district, including the high schools.

“When I was at Ballard the other day, they had stars up for every student in the entire building and your job during the first few days was to find your name, peel it off the wall, and stick it on your locker,” he said. “I thought, ‘whoa, that’s really cool.'”

Sun was frustrated, because this was during the time that Ballard High School was in a lock down after reports of a student with a gun were called in to 9-1-1, but Superintendent Nyland didn’t mention it.

No one was hurt and the lockdown was lifted soon after the student in question was located off campus and arrested.

Sun and other parents say Nyland and other administrators whitewash problems and won’t talk to parents. Many are upset that the school board is likely going to vote to give him a raise.

Nyland did offer to give half of it back. That’s about $7,000. His salary is $276,000.

Throughout the recent teacher strike and the reassignment conflict, Nyland refused KIRO Radio interview requests, but after the speech, he agreed to talk to reporters for a few minutes.

About teacher re-assignments, he repeated information he’d released via statements.

“The primary need was with regard to the enrollment shortage and therefore less funding and so we needed to make adjustments in teaching staff,” he said.

As for parents’ requests for more transparency on things such as teacher reassignments.

“We’ve involved Principals in that process and I’m glad to involve others,” Nyland said. “We do have formulas that we use to assign teachers.”

He also defended his salary.

“My raise is not going to solve anywhere near any of the issues that we have on the table,” he said. “I have done better than anybody else. I’m gonna take the smallest raise in the district, as far as I know.”

Even though he is paid more than the governor of Washington state?

“True,” he said. “That’s true.”

Back at Lowell Elementary, Sophia does gymnastics on the school’s jungle gym while her dad notes the million dollar properties on Capitol Hill, surrounding the school. Sun said he’s bothered that Mayor Ed Murray is talking about homelessness but isn’t focusing on education.

“What he wanted to focus attention on was the fact that this is a growing problem in our city, that this inequity is growing, despite the surge of people moving in and the wealth that’s being created,” Sun said. “And it’s right here in Capitol Hill, in the neighborhood where [the mayor] lives. It’s happening. And [the district] is not only not providing additional resources to help, they’ve been taking it away.”

Sun says the district should do more for students and should find a way to be more transparent. Superintendent Nyland did admit in his speech that there were things that could improve. One of them was communication.

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