David and his wife, Carrie, have been a part of the Puyallup community for 20 years. They have raised three sons here, two who are Puyallup School District graduates and one who is member of the class of 2024.
David has 17 years of experience advocating for public education and has a demonstrated history of working in the civic & social organization industry. He has been actively engaged in work leading to policy change at the state and local level. David has been invited to speak about education and advocacy to parents, teachers, and other advocates from Puyallup to Bellingham to Longview to Ellensburg, and even to Washington D.C.
David has written and co-written legislative proposals with teams of other passionate advocates and has helped build consensus on controversial issues. Some of his work was adopted as the official positions of statewide organizations. He has testified to Legislators on education issues many times and seen some of his proposals win unanimous bi-partisan support in floor votes in Olympia on their way to being signed into law.
David recognizes that the next few years will bring unique challenges to our schools. Reopening our school buildings is only one part of the path forward for our students. Listening to our students, parents, and teachers will be crucial to making the decisions that will lead to the long-term success of the Puyallup School District. He is ready to work with the other Directors on the Puyallup School Board to build that future.
When I say that I believe in diversity, equity, and inclusion, I’m not speaking in code. I’m not trying to covertly insert some other belief system. I’m not trying to scare you. So why should we be concerned about diversity, equity, and inclusion here in Puyallup?
Our schools are much more diverse than our community as a whole, and have become significantly more diverse in recent years. Census data says that Pierce County is about 67% white, and Puyallup close to 78% white. Our schools are closer to 50% white, and a third of the schools in the Puyallup School District are majority minority. There is much more to our identity than the race we might choose to label ourselves with on a form. Racial identity is a placeholder that provides one way to recognize our students have different lived experiences. As the composition of our district has changed, recognizing those different lived experiences has become more important.
Our District website is accessible in ten languages in addition to English. Five years ago, the District reported that more than 50 different languages were spoken in the homes of our students. Census data estimates that 10% of Puyallup families speak a primary language other than English at home. More than 12% of our students have disabilities. Surveys indicate that between 5 and 10% of our population identify as LGBTQ+. Providing an inclusive environment for our students requires that we are also providing an inclusive environment for their families. If we’re not talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion, we’re failing the children of our District and their families.
First and foremost, our children have to feel safe and welcomed in their schools. Several years ago. I was a part of a PTA that made welcome signs in each of the languages spoken in the homes of our school’s students. One morning, PTA members, school staff, and other students lined the walkway to our building holding up those signs for every child to see as they entered school. Our principal then held a brief assembly, inviting the children to be recognized as each welcome sign was read in their language. The original plan was to post those signs at the main entrance of the school after the assembly for each child and their family to see every day. Instead students, seeing that simple symbol they were welcome and included in our community, wanted to keep the signs and bring them home to their families right away.
Messages of inclusion go beyond recognizing we come from different places. We have to be aware there are many reasons children can feel excluded. We can’t let economic barriers keep our children from being able to participate fully in our schools. Whether that’s finding a way to provide internet access for students who might otherwise not be able to afford it, or reducing the costs of participating in sports, band and orchestra, the Advanced Placement program, Running Start, or any other place where finances could limit access, we have an obligation to support and include each child. The same can be said for our students with disabilities, our students experiencing homelessness, our highly mobile students, students in foster care, or students with a military parent. Each of those characteristics brings with it unique challenges and might require different interventions or accommodations. In the end, it’s up to each of us to make sure that each child feels safe and welcomed so that learning can begin. Providing what is necessary and appropriate for each child is to act with equity in mind.
Throughout my years of advocacy, I’ve repeatedly been involved in discussions about achievement gaps and opportunity gaps. You can see what some of those gaps look like in Puyallup using OSPI’s Report Card and selecting the Diversity Report. Those gaps didn’t just happen. They were the result of decisions that were made that did not create equitable opportunities for all children. We can identify areas for improvement. We can identify groups of children who could benefit from different interventions. We can, and must, do better by those children. We can do that by paying attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The Washington State Legislature recently passed a bill that mandates the Washington State School Directors’ Association (WSSDA) develop cultural competency , diversity, equity, and inclusion (CCDEI) standards for school governance, and that the Professional Educator Standards Board (PESB) update its CCDEI standards to provide for one day of professional learning in CCDEI every other year.
How did they define diversity, equity, and inclusion?
Some are attacking that as critical race theory. I don’t see it that way. I see it just the way I described it above. Our children have had different lived experiences for any number of reasons. They come from diverse backgrounds. Our children may need different things to allow them access to the opportunities they need to fully participate in our schools. We need to address their needs keeping equity in mind. Our schools must make intentional efforts to respect our students and provide them a safe environment in which they can belong and fully participate. Inclusion in our schools in essential.
We all want the best for our students. We want them to feel safe and included. We want them to get the services they need to achieve, and the provision of equitable services best moves us towards that goal. We’re all starting in different places having lived different experiences, and the growing diversity of our community has made understanding that and responding to that more important than ever. It’s the job of the school board to make sure we continue to move in the right direction.
In July, I wrote about my position on masks in our schools. Much has changed since then as the Delta variant of COVID-19 took hold. The day I posted my first message about masks, July 9, 2021, Pierce County was reporting a 14-day case rate per 100,000 of 38. That was very near the lowest case rate reported since mid-September of 2020 and I was optimistic about what options might be available when schools opened. Things changed. The day our schools opened for the 2021-2022 school year, our 14-day case rate per 100,000 had increased significantly to 353. After a plateau, Pierce County has seen the 14-day case rate begin to decrease over the last week, standing at 261 today.
Some very important things have not changed. Most important, School Boards still do not have the legal authority to override the decisions of the Washington State Department of Health. Failure to comply with the mask mandate would result in the loss of State funding for our schools. No amount of disruptions of our School Board meetings will change that, and will only serve to take time away from focusing our attention on those things we can do for our children.
During the 2020-2021 school year, the District had reported 241 total positive cases. In the first six weeks of the 2021-2022 school year, we’ve already exceeded that number.
I still believe that School Boards aren’t public health departments, and aren’t comprised of public health experts. Decisions about how best to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 must be rooted in public health, not politics. In the last four weeks, my family has received five notifications from our son’s school about someone at the school testing positive, but that our child was not believed to have been exposed. Masks aren’t a perfect solution, and they can’t be our only response, but they are an important part of a multilayered approach to providing our children with uninterrupted instruction.
Vaccines have not yet been approved for children younger than 12, and in Pierce County we’ve vaccinated a little over 50% of those between the ages of 12 and 17. For the foreseeable future, we’ll still need to have additional mitigation measures in place for those who are not yet vaccinated, medically vulnerable, or unable to be vaccinated. Exactly what those measures will look like will depend on what the experts in the field recommend. In that decision, like so many others, I’ll seek out the opinions of people who know the issue better than I do and make sure they inform our process. Let’s focus on keeping our kids in school, receiving uninterrupted instruction, and getting the education they deserve.
[Note: I wear a mask when canvassing voters, ringing doorbells and knocking on doors. I’ve met hundreds and hundreds of voters during my campaign. Dozens have thanked me for masking and considered it a reason to support my candidacy, while only one person shared that they “didn’t believe in masks.”]
During my campaign, I’ve been asked a few times about my position on critical race theory (CRT). Though it would be difficult to miss the national uproar over the phrase, it’s not a part of the Puyallup School District’s K-12 curriculum, and it’s not something the District is considering adopting as any kind of distinct curriculum.
I generally find that when the term is used in a negative way, it’s being used to try to scare and manipulate people. One of the leaders of the anti-CRT movement lives near here, in Gig Harbor, and has said as much.
What are some of those “crazy” things and “cultural insanities” people might read about in the newspaper? Diversity, equity, and inclusion. Social Emotional Learning. Culture. Prejudice. I’m not sure which of these things is supposed to be toxic.
The argument has become that trying to address inequities is wrong, because it’s a result of embracing and adopting critical race theory. It’s difficult to know how far this argument extends. Our District will provide free breakfasts and lunches to all children in the District next year to ensure each of our children has access to nutritious meals. This will help to address an inequity. Does that make it critical race theory?
Our District provides busing to schools for children who don’t live within a safe walking distance. Some children may be able to get a ride from parents or carpool with friends, while others require access to a bus to be able to get to school. Bus routes for some means that we aren’t treating all students equally. We’ve also used buses to transport children to schools other than their home school for programs like QUEST and PAGE, for athletics, for our elementary band programs, and for some special education services. Not every child has access to private transportation that can take them where they need to go, or deliver them to school early and pick them up late. Busing addresses an inequity. It results in a more diverse population of children being included in school programs. Does that make it CRT?
Our District has made student mental health a priority. We’ve implemented a social emotional learning curriculum. What does that curriculum include: “Social emotional skills include: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Character development includes: patience, kindness, honesty, respect, selflessness, forgiveness, commitment, and humility.” That doesn’t seem particularly toxic to me.
Our teachers don’t treat each of our children equally in the classroom. They regularly differentiate their instruction, using reading groups and math groups to cluster students of similar abilities together to better personalize their instruction. This differentiation can provide additional supports to students who might be struggling with a particular concept and additional opportunities for exploration for students who’ve grasped the concept quickly. Equal treatment for all might result in worse outcomes for some students. We also have an inequitable amount of resources devoted to special education students (a clear example of inequity being a good thing), but I haven’t seen a rush to deny these children additional supports.
What if I told you of a study that found two groups of students were chosen to participate in a program at different rates? That might be fine. Varsity athletics are an example where students are selected to participate at different rates and we demand it be that way. What if the two groups of students were found to have identical grades and test scores, but still were selected to participate in an academic program at different rates? You might be getting more uncomfortable with the idea. What if one of the groups was 250% less likely to be selected than the other? That’s sounding like a bigger issue. And if the group that was less likely to be selected consisted of children from poverty and minority groups? That seems like a clear call to act. I’ll let someone else work out if the system that created that disparate outcome might have racial underpinnings. What I know is that seeing something like that means something in the selection process needs to change to address the inequity. I didn’t just make up that example. It comes out of research from the National Research Center on Gifted Education, and it’s why I helped write a bill that would expand the use of universal screening, widely recognized as a best practice for correcting inequitable identification practices, to identify students for highly capable services statewide. (The Puyallup School District recently implemented universal screening for second graders to help ensure the students in our QUEST program better resemble the composition of our District as a whole.)
Outcomes don’t just happen. They are a result of the choices we make. If we’ve made choices that disproportionately harm an identifiable group of children, we have an obligation to make better choices and fix the system that failed those kids. It’s why some opponents of CRT also oppose collecting any demographic information about children and doing any reporting that includes information about race or poverty — if we stop looking for the problem, they’ll claim there’s no proof it exists. I’ll let academics and lawyers figure out if critical race theory might be relevant to explaining why a system might have failed some children but not others. While they do that, I’ll be here, advocating to change the laws and policies that we can tie to inequitable outcomes, just as I have been for the last 17 years.
I was recently asked a question in a Facebook group about my position on mask wearing in our schools. It hasn’t been something I’ve devoted much attention to in my campaign for one reason: The School Board doesn’t have the legal authority to make that decision.
Here’s how I answered the question and a look at my thinking on the issue:
“If elected, I will abide by my oath of office and will act to keep Puyallup Schools in compliance with state law. Failing to do so risks our ability to operate schools and could put our taxpayers at risk.
Current guidance on reopening schools is available from the Department of Health. That guidance is likely to continue to evolve and change, and the DOH recognizes that in their guidance, but today we are required to mandate masks in our school buildings. Board members do not have the legal authority to override DOH requirements. I won’t promise you something I can’t do.”
A follow up question asked if I could be trusted to challenge decisions and policies with which I disagreed. That’s an easy one to answer, and one that any of the people who’ve worked with me over the years would be able to answer immediately. Here’s what I said:
“When my sons had issues in their classroom, I addressed the problem with their teachers. When the sons’ teachers had issues in their school, I addressed the problems with their principals. When a principal was unable to address an issue, I brought it to the school board.
Advocacy is about knowing who has the power, and bringing your advocacy to them. For the last 17 years, I’ve been a passionate advocate for public education. I’ve worked with legislators of both parties, both at the state level and the federal level. My work has resulted in legislation that has changed state law, and increased access to services for tens of thousands of students across the state. In that example, yelling at school boards would have done nothing to improve access for students — the issue was with state law and with state funding levels. I developed a broad coalition of support from parents, teachers, and administrators across the state and we changed the law. Students across Washington benefitted.
When the only Federal program that provided funding for gifted education was threatened, I traveled to Washington DC and worked with advocates from across the country to make our case to members of Congress. Yelling at the school board wouldn’t have accomplished anything. Funding for the program was preserved, and OSPI was able to obtain a grant through the program that was used to create a free professional development program accessible to districts across our state. I was then able to go to districts and advocate they use this new free resource.
I’ve received awards for my advocacy work in a school by local PTAs, in our county by the Puyallup PTA Council, and in our state by the Washington Educators of the Talented and Gifted. I know all about challenging things that aren’t right, and I know that to do it effectively I have to make my case to the people who can actually do something about it.
The decision on mask wearing is not a decision the school board has the authority to make. If people are sincere about changing that, they need to address their advocacy to the people who do have that authority. When faced with injustices, that’s what I’ve done, and that’s what I will continue to do as a Director.”
I was later asked to clarify my position: “Is it your belief that the school board doesn’t have the power to make any decision on this?” This was my answer:
“I think it’s getting more likely every day that the DOH could make masking optional, rather than required, by fall. If they do, it would almost certainly come with other conditions. I would expect the DOH to be very explicit about what would be acceptable, and not allow each board to figure that out individually. If they didn’t, I would expect Directors across the state to demand better. School Boards aren’t public health departments, and aren’t comprised of public health experts. This should be a decision rooted in public health, not politics. It’s difficult to imagine any recommendation that would endorse a complete return to how things were pre-pandemic, at least not until vaccines received complete approval, including for children under 12.
I think Pierce County would be in a better position for what comes next if we were doing a better job getting more people vaccinated. Our schools will be safer when our community is safer. It’s up to the community to allow schools to “return to normal,” not up to the schools to allow the community to return to normal. We had 241 positive Covid-19 tests reported in the District during the course of the year. That’s far from a “kids don’t get it” amount, and a number that could have been greater if a mask mandate had not been in place, and absolutely would have been greater had other defensive measures not been in place. It’s evidence to me that what we did made a difference, and not that what we did was an overreaction.
We’ll almost certainly need to have some additional precautions in place for those who are medically vulnerable or unable to be vaccinated. Exactly what that might look like will depend on what the experts in the field recommend. In that decision, like so many others, I’ll seek out the opinions of people who know the issue better than I do and make sure they are part of the process.”
Today, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released updated guidance for COVID-19 prevention in K-12 schools. One of their recommendations: “Masks should be worn indoors by all individuals (age 2 and older) who are not fully vaccinated. Consistent and correct mask use by people who are not fully vaccinated is especially important indoors and in crowded settings, when physical distancing cannot be maintained.” In Puyallup, our 7th graders are typically about 12 years old, which would suggest masks would still be a part of safely reopening our junior highs. Our vaccination rate is likely to inform what the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department and Washington State Department of Health recommends for our high schools and junior highs, while this guidance would suggest that masks will be a part of our elementary schools for at least a while longer.
I can’t predict what might happen between now and September. Our Summer Learning Academies will give us one look at what’s changed and what’s working. Our September opening date will also provide us additional time to see what’s working and what’s not working at schools in other states that return children to classrooms a month or more before us. Ultimately, that information will be used by health departments who set the rules that the District must follow. We might have a general framework of options from which we can choose, but we won’t be starting from a blank slate, making this decision on our own. School Directors simply don’t have that legal authority.
I recently wrote about the job of a school director. Each School Board in the state has defined its role and the role of a school director in its governing documents. Puyallup’s Board believes that at its core, the board must ensure that “students will have ample opportunity to achieve their individual and collective learning potential.” The operation of a school district is a complex process, involving a broad range on interests. In serving those interests, the Board has adopted a number of District Policies that seek to define the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved.
One of the tasks of a School Board as adopted in our District Policies is to give final approval during the curriculum adoption process. The entire process is spelled out in Board Policy 2020R. The role of the Certificated Teaching Staff, Principal, Assistant Superintendent, Instructional Materials Committee, Superintendent and School Board are clearly defined, as illustrated in the Policy.
Certificated Teaching Staff are to identify core material. The Instructional Materials Committee, which may include parents, will evaluate and recommend core materials for approval, and will “evaluate and act upon citizens’ requests for reconsideration of core materials.” The criteria for the selection of instructional materials is also defined. I added emphasis on points E and H below.
Criteria for Selection of Core/Alternative Core Instructional Materials
Core instructional materials shall be selected based upon the degree to which they:
A. Demonstrate likelihood of impact as shown by scientific or evidence-based research;
B. Enable implementation of the district’s developed curriculum and meet state standards and College Readiness requirements;
C. Provide sufficient flexibility to meet the varied needs and abilities of the students served;
D. Provide clear and appropriate differentiation components for English Language Learners, special education students, students with academic opportunity gaps, and highly capable students;
E. Where appropriate, present balanced but differing views of issues, controversial or otherwise, in order that students may develop critical analysis and informed decision-making skills;
F. Demonstrate consideration of appropriate format(s) (including technological, visual, and/or auditory components);
G. Support equitable access to learning and learning materials for all students; including the provision of appropriate, high-quality accessible instructional materials to all students with disabilities who require them; and
H. Are free of stereotyping and gender, race, class, and other forms of bias, recognizing that under certain circumstances biased materials may serve as appropriate resources to present contrasting and differing points of view, and biased materials may be employed in order to teach students about bias, stereotyping, and propaganda in historical or contemporary contexts. The Washington Models for the Evaluation of Bias Content in Instructional Materials, published by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) should be consulted in the selection process to further to the goal of eliminating content bias.
So why am I writing about this now?
During the May 24th School Board meeting, the Director of Instructional Leadership presented to the Board a recommendation to adopt a new 9th Grade Modern World History Curriculum. You can see full details of their recommendation in the Agenda for the May 24th meeting, and I’ve linked the specific recommendation here.
The stated plan was to present the proposed new instructional materials for a first reading and consideration at the meeting on the 24th, and to hold a second reading during the June 7th meeting before asking for a vote from the Board. Despite beginning the process in 2019, some questions and comments were made by Directors during the meeting that questioned the content of the material, and how America was portrayed in the World History Curriculum. The new curriculum has now been pulled from the June 7th agenda to allow Board Members to gather additional information before voting.
I’m very concerned about the introduction of politics into this process at this late date, and particularly during a time when Boards across the country are finding themselves attacked for supporting concepts of equity, diversity of opinion, and addressing how certain perspectives in history have dominated discussions. The objections raised during the Board meeting weren’t about the process, or about the recommendation of the teachers. In the report of the Instructional Materials Committee, “[t]he committee overwhelmingly selected the TCI materials, both for the content it covered, the amount of learning strategies & resources offered, as well as the support and structure for new teachers.” Our policies explicitly recognize that some concepts will need to include differing views of issues, so that students can develop critical thinking skills. Still, the objection seemed to fall back on whether the world history curriculum was sufficiently pro-American and too welcoming of differing views of historical events.
Our Certificated Teaching Staff has done their job and made their recommendation. Our Instructional Materials Committee reviewed the recommendation and followed the processes outlined for them by the Board. There were opportunities for involvement and review before May 24th. The texts and samples of the curriculum have been available to the Board and to the public online and at each of our Junior High Schools since April 27th.
I’ve heard repeatedly from parents that they don’t feel like the District and the Board are adequately seeking their input before decisions are made. Even more clearly, you’ve told me that you don’t believe that the District and the Board LISTEN to that input when it is welcomed. There is absolutely room to improve our processes and to do a better job of engaging our community in decision making. In this case, the input of teachers was sought according to policy, received and acted upon according to policy, and then disregarded — at least for right now — because of politics. That should concern us all.
I will be at the June 7th Board Meeting to express my concerns. The public is always invited to sign-in for in-person public comment before each meeting. You can also request to make a comment virtually by emailing Beth Kerrick at firstname.lastname@example.org by 4:00 p.m. Monday with your name and topic. Please put “Public Comment” in the subject line of your email. Your name will be called by the Board President during the public comment portion of the agenda. Public comments are limited to three minutes in length, and guidelines are posted on the District website.