By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
To borrow a sports phrase, this is a “rebuilding year” for the Chief Sealth International High School PTSA, with an all-new board.
This week, they kicked off the year with the first quarterly general meeting, and were heartened by the turnout – ~30 parents, students, staff gathered in the Sealth library to talk about everything from school spirit to the new no-cell-phones-in-class policy.
New co-presidents Shannon McDonald and Cami Peloza led the meeting. First, some internal business – the board still has a few openings, from vice president to some committee chairs. (If you’re interested, email firstname.lastname@example.org.) The PTSA plans a fundraising auction in December and a “direct drive” in spring. Right now they’re also interested in more members (the coordinator is community member Preston Anderson), to rebuild that base too; here’s how to join. Students are free, and there’s a scholarship fund for anyone else who can’t afford the nominal dues.
That’s all in line with th PTSA’s “strategic plan” for this year, which calls for encouraging more student/staff/family involvement in the organization and with the school in general. Other parts of the plan: Be more inclusive of families of color, to “get the PTSA away from being primarily white women”; to work more closely with the ASB (student leadership) and school leaders; develop strong relationships with staff; work with other major school-support organizations like Denny-Sealth Performing Arts; and to bolster CSIHS’s image in the West Seattle community, shining a light on student achievements, supporting caretaking of the school property, etc.
CELL-PHONE POLICY: As it happens, this new policy (no cell-phone use except before/after school and at lunch, as noted here earlier this week) is also bolstering Chief Sealth’s image – principal Ray Morales says he’s heard from other high schools interested in implementing something similar themselves. But before he spoke, reps from the Building Leadership Team explained how they came up with the policy. A teacher proposed it, said Maha Giundi of the BLT, which is a group, elected by school staff, that meets every other week. They worked on it over the summer; “we were really nervous about it but so far it’s been successful.” Even the rollout to students went more smoothly than expected; Giundi said they thought they’d be booed for it. Parent support is overwhelmingly in favor, according to a survey sent out with principal Morales’s original announcement. “It’s not punitive – it’s a policy, not a rule.”
Overall, Giundi explained, the motivation is increased mental health – it’s been shown that being glued to their phones has been detrimental to that. So far, they’re seeing people “talking to each other!” And there’s no question it’s a boon to teachers too – “we were tired of asking folks to put their phones away.” One attendee described the policy as “courageous.”
Principal Morales followed the BLT reps.
He said everyone worked hard to get full staff buy-in – the school has a staff of 135 – as they strategized how to roll it out, how to explain it, pointing to research and data supporting it. He expressed gratitude to students as well as staff: “It’s been a heavy lift and it’s going to continue evr=ery single day.”
One big question – are there consequences for not complying? How do teachers enforce it? So far, two weeks into th school year, he says it hasn’t come to a clash between educator and student, but, he said, the first step would be to have a conversation with the student “in a restorative way, not punitive … before it gets to the point of discipline. This isn’t about controlling anybody … it’s about support, it’s about mental health.” And he said he can appreciate the policy in multiple ways – for one, as the parent of a 16-year-old, and for two, in following it himself – he’s relying on two-way radio communication around the campus rather than using and endlessly checking his cell phones. “Many staff have been modeling this too.”
And he acknowledged the concerns of parents who want to reach their students in an emergency. For one, they can call the office and they’ll get a message to the student. If it’s a shelter-in-place situation, Morales, for the first time, said he is empowered to get a message out to parents immediately, “within minutes”; previously, he said, a message would have to go through district officials, who would have to “wordsmith” it, but now that’s changed. He said it’s preferable for one version of a message to get out, through the administration, because when students put something on social media “there are hundreds of versions of what’s happening,” so eliminating that option is “actually safer.”
One person suggested that in addition to getting a message out quickly to parents, administration should brief students, at least before the school day ends, on what happened. One of the students at the meeting said it would be even better to tell them quickly what’s going on: “We’re the ones in the school, it’s our safety” that’s at stake.
In summary, Morales said the new policy is “shifting culture, and it’s huge.” It’ll take a while to become ingrained – “our ninth-graders are so OK with this,” 11th- and 12th-graders less so, but as one attendee said, “it takes 30 days to make a habit,” and they’re well on the way. (Side note: We asked the district about this, and they responded that there’s no district-wide rule on cell-phone use, so, “Schools/principals have the discretion to implement reasonable procedures that align with SPS policies and serve their school communities.”)
One other improvement this year – they have been able to keep restrooms open because the graffiti problems of the past haven’t manifested so far. (The ones in the galleria are closed post-breakfast and pre-lunch because there’s no reason for them to be in use at other times anyway.)
Overall, Giundi from the Building Leadership Team offered, school pride can be infectious, and they encourage students to take pride in where they are. That pride is something the PTSA will be encouraging and supporting this year too.
WHAT’S NEXT: The year’s three other general PTSA meetings are currently scheduled for January 23rd, March 19th, and June 4th. Before then, set your calendar for the Chief Sealth PTSA auction in Brockey Center at South Seattle College (WSB sponsor) on December 2nd.