By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Sahnica Washington‘s new job is blocks away, and yet a world away, from the site of her first job.
As a teenager, she says, she entered the work world as a courtesy clerk at the former Safeway store at 35th and Roxbury (where Freedom Church of Seattle is headquartered now).
This summer, a few blocks east at 30th and Roxbury, she began work at Roxhill Elementary School as its new principal.
We reported Washington’s appointment in early August, and met her weeks later when the Seattle Police Guild leadership visited to “adopt” the school.
But before sitting down for an interview, Washington wanted to get the school year well under way, so we finally sat down to talk last week – her first official interview as Roxhill principal.
Much has happened in the school year’s first month – and yet, it all comes down to, and up to, one word:
That word is “scholars.”
Roxhill doesn’t have students. It has scholars. That’s the word Washington and her staff deliberately use to describe the 370 (or so, still fluctuating) children with whom they work, all of them “intellectual beings who are studying and growing. … Every single teacher in this building believes that each and every child that steps thru the doors of Roxhill can and will learn.”
She and her team are learners, too, and currently working on ways to honor their scholars’ work – both academic achievement and attendance (with a big event later this month focusing on the latter). They will honor a Scholar of the Month at assemblies.
And they will focus on specific areas for growth. “If you look at our MSP scores – we are growing, our students are achieving. We’re not there yet but making progress. One area I’ve been looking at and talking with staff about is math. We’re being really intentional in our professional-development planning to focus on math, tapping various resources to help with that.” No curriculum changes are envisioned right now – Washington is watching to see what happens at the district level, since “common core standards” have been adopted. “I didn’t feel like I wanted to jump in and try a new curriculum if things are changing at the district level.”
Speaking of jumping in – let’s get back to introducing you, formally, to the new principal.
“New” is a relative term here. After serving her principal internship at Roxhill, and working there as a teacher mentor, Washington was no stranger to the school when she arrived this summer to take the principal position that opened up after Carmela Dellino was promoted to Executive Director of Schools for this region of the district.
Dellino is Washington’s boss – and her successor as Roxhill principal explains she wouldn’t have it any other way. Washington worked with Dellino fulltime two years ago during her principal internship, and that included being “part of the initiation of the Saturday Academy …” which came into full flower last year, and Washington wishes she could have seen that.
She knew she would be working with Dellino this year, Washington says, but she thought the context would be different – “When I was an intern, Carmela would joke with me and say, ‘you know I’m retiring soon’ … and I’d say, ‘You know I am going to be the next principal.’ So when the opportunity came this summer, literally, I was hired to be the head teacher – I knew I was coming to Roxhill.” She didn’t think she’d be head teacher for long – administration was where her interest lay – but then Dellino told her, “Well, I’m leaving to be the education director,” and Washington said her reaction was, “Here’s my dream come true! I get to be the principal of Roxhill AND learn under Carmela, because she’s my boss.”
This role also enables Washington to continue supporting teachers, which is what she did as a mentor, working with more than 80 teachers in the past few years: “I was a support for first-year teachers, spent every week with teachers in their classroom, providing them with feedback.” Now she’s doing that as leader of her own staff, determining “what are the strengths of instructional practices at Roxhill and what are some of the weaknesses.”
Washington’s teaching career started at now-closed, likely-to-be-reopened Fairmount Park Elementary in West Seattle. Her next school was Rainier View Elementary, where she spent seven years till it closed. After her fourth child was born, she became a mentor, traveling the area.
She not only has spent her career in Seattle Public Schools, that’s where she went to school, too – the aforementioned job at the former 35th/Roxbury Safeway was close to where her family lived. The first home she bought as an adult was at 18th/Roxbury, and she lived there for eight years. Right now, Washington lives in Renton with her daughter and three sons, but hopes to move back to West Seattle. “Reconnecting with the community” is part of her 60-day plan, and she is working on that with her staff as well as with the Roxhill families – “learning more deeply who the families are, who the students are, how I can support them, what are some of the needs, what’s going well.”
The new principal doesn’t “see (herself) coming in and overhauling” anything. While, as Washington describes it, Dellino left “big shoes to fill” behind at Roxhill, she also left behind a “well-oiled machine – a system set up so the (principal) coming in could be successful, with a highly qualified teacher in every room … the support staff is also highly qualified, and the professional-learning communities are up and running” – ready for work on professional-development days (like this Friday, when there’s no classes in the district, to facilitate that work). She also has implemented simple changes such as regular team meetings, even one with her office staff on Mondays. “Every staff member needs to feel engaged, feel that their voice is heard.”
Since Washington became principal instead of head teacher, the latter role has a new face: Chad Kodama, who came from West Seattle Elementary. “The students are in awe of him,” enthuses Washington. “They adore him.” He has an office – a converted room that used to hold mailboxes and a copy machine. “We’re being creative to find room for extra resources.” She also has a part-time assistant principal, Frances Coppa.
Roxhill has extra support, which means she and her staff have more to work with – “a lot of community resources coming on board, that will ultimately make a difference for student achievement, every child reaching every standard.” That support includes a nurse practitioner and mental-health practitioner that will be on site 10 to 12 hours a week starting soon. Their presence, the principal explains, can make a difference for attendance – if a child doesn’t have to be pulled out for a doctor’s appointment, and can be seen by an on-site practitioner instead.
Attendance is one of the challenges she is addressing – “especially for K-1 students.” The citywide “Be Here Get There” campaign will figure into this.
And as of this week, afterschool programs are up and running – math and reading support, some of it with City Year, and even a science/tech club that a teacher who “loves science” is offering.
Closing the interview, we ask Washington what else she wants people to know about Roxhill. “It’s shaking and moving. We’re doing the work, we’re excited about the work … Roxhill also has the most beautiful brilliant scholars ever, and they have families who – although the family engagement may look different, they love and support their kids and will do what’s necessary to make sure their scholars are successful. It’s a dream come true for me to be able to be the principal of a school such as Roxhill, with diversity in all aspects, and the commitment and drive to make sure that all of our scholars are successful and ready to participate in an ever-changing global society.”