Association of Washington School Principals
Volume 2 – 2020-21


Promoting Equity in Partnership with the National Math and Science Initiative
Collective Teacher Efficacy and High Expectations for All
Jennifer Vasilez
Principal, Chief Leschi Schools, AWSP Diversity and Equity Advisory Council, Former Assistant Principal at Bethel High School
Evaluation Criteria: Creating a Culture, Planning with Data, Improving Instruction, Managing Resources, Engaging Families and Communities, Closing the Gap
(Updated from an article originally written prior to the pandemic, in consultation with John Prosser, Assistant Principal, Bethel High School, Bethel School District and Committee Member) Bethel High School serves 1,800 students with diverse needs, from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. Students come from all socioeconomic, academic, and cultural backgrounds, and meeting the needs of all students can be a challenge. To ensure that each student is reached every day, equity is an intentional focus of Bethel High School and the district, and a driving force in strategic planning and decision making.
Bethel established a District Equity Team that first met in December 2019. This team includes staff, parents, and community members who are committed to work together in a two-year study focusing on racial equality in Bethel. The goal of this study is to develop a baseline of current equity practices within the district, create a multi-year district wide equity plan, and to create a way to measure district equity and inclusivity success.
Additionally, Bethel welcomed two new hires for first-time positions in fall of the 2019 school year: Equity Specialists, who ensure equity stays at the forefront of decision making in each building. Last year, at the building level, we tackled tough conversations, taught students how to navigate systems and report concerns, and continually tracked data to ensure equitable practices in discipline. This work was furthered this school year, through on-going equity training and a continued focus on school-wide discipline. These trainings accompanied a substantive change to discipline practices, including the elimination of all detentions and transition away from punitive discipline practices. Classroom exclusion is now only used for direct safety-related issues.
Bethel has also focused on breaking down barriers and providing equitable access to educational opportunities for all students, through their partnership with the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI).
Bethel School District is the second school in Washington state to commit to a partnership with the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI). NMSI focuses specifically on preparing students for STEM careers through advanced placement offerings that align to careers with lower representation of women and people of color.
Bethel High School continues to work diligently to remove obstacles that prevent students from academic confidence and success, and NMSI has demonstrable results in promoting equity in both enrollment and student success. All around the United States, NMSI has led to increased enrollment in AP classes across all ethnic demographics, with an increase in college readiness to match. This partnership strives to improve student outcomes by leveraging collective teacher efficacy and high expectations for all. One goal of this partnership is increasing the percent of students in Advanced Placement (AP) classes and, more importantly, providing support to ensure their retention and success within these courses.
For the previous two academic years, Bethel intentionally recruited students who may not have previously considered themselves an AP student, and ensured AP demographics matched those of Bethel High School. As part of this work, the NMSI team coordinated to increase recruitment of non-traditional AP students and support them throughout the year. The hope is that by breaking down barriers, all students begin to see themselves as capable of anything. This year, overall student demographics continue to match that of students enrolled in AP courses.
The unique dynamics of this year, lead to innovation. John Prosser, who currently oversees the NMSI program at BHS shared, “The pandemic exposed inequities within remote instruction. Our partnership with NMSI has helped address some of those inequities.” To support AP students in the pandemic, NMSI was able to provide an additional $23,000 for laptops and hotspots to improve student access to online opportunities. These resources have helped AP students find success.
Each year, students from current AP classes teach a lesson to all of our students about how AP classes can be the first step towards careers in specific fields. AP classes are advertised at all athletic events and in morning announcements. Recruitment begins early on for students. Counselors meet with all 8th graders each February to promote the importance of rigorous classes and taking learning risks. Staff also reach out to students individually to personally invite students to the AP program. Equitable to AP classes is a guiding focus of work at BHS. For example, as part of the NMSI team’s data review, it became apparent that many students would not be able to take an AP math class senior year due to math pathways. As a result, an advanced algebra and geometry math course were combined to expand opportunities for students. The goal is to show students that every student can be an AP student, and this goal is beginning to come to fruition.
But the NMSI partnership is more than just recruitment into AP classes. Students receive a variety of supports throughout the year. One of the most influential supports are the special Saturday sessions, which provide additional practice for the end of course AP exam, as well as access to extended content and exposure to a different instructor. These sessions are structured to mirror college classes, exposing students to a glimpse of college life. They also provide an opportunity for students across the district to make connections and build community and peer support.
This work will not only improve the quality of education for AP students, but for all students, as BHS continues to focus on excellence and high expectations for all.
As an added bonus, teachers are also able to observe their students learning in another setting and reinforce the importance of these opportunities by modeling behavior and passion for learning. Additionally, all test fees are paid for students. This year, online resources that teach study and test taking skills, as well as content, are expanded on, to support all students in achieving on the AP exams, even during the pandemic. Aaliyah Figueroa, a BHS student shared with incoming sophomores at a district NMSI Kickoff Assembly, “…AP Calc is hard, especially for someone like me. If you put in hard work, your teacher will meet you halfway, so if someone like me can make it, then everyone else can.”
At Bethel High School, teachers have traveled to Texas, New Orleans, and California to attend trainings for their AP courses. These trainings discuss instructional techniques and strategies, provide content-specific training, and teach new curriculum, but that’s not all.
As part of the $727,500.00 grant from the Department of Defense that funds much of this work, NMSI offers online curricular resources and mentors for teachers. A focus of this partnership is developing a school wide culture of AP. BHS is working to increase rigor and tier one instruction throughout the campus. A program manager from NMSI, Will McDowell, shared, “At NMSI we recognize that schools cannot do it all alone. During our partnership our goal is to be a conduit of resources and best practices that we see happening nationally as each partner school transforms to a culture where students can thrive and reach their highest potential as problem solvers.”
This work will not only improve the quality of education for AP students, but for all students, as BHS continues to focus on excellence and high expectations for all. Jarrell Terry, a senior this year, shared about his AP teacher, “I love Mrs. Fowler’s class because she takes time to make sure her students understand what she’s teaching. She also genuinely cares about us as people. That’s why her class is my favorite.” Fowler closes each of her lessons with a formative assessment to ensure all students have learned the intended target. Exporting this into all of classes is an important goal. Students are beginning to see the value of rigor, even beyond what content will be used after high school. Another AP student in our building shared, “Mathematics isn’t just about numbers and expressions. It’s about the logic behind why the expression works. High school is your opportunity to make mistakes, since in college you can’t afford to.”
In the second year of implementation, we saw a significant increase of enrollment in AP classes, with overall enrollment more than doubling. Further, the team continues to examine access and support for all students in monthly team meeting in which data is reviewed and BHS’s current trajectory is examined. The team then makes modifications to ensure positive progress forward. The future is bright, as shown in the words of Nicole Reyes, another AP student, “We can be the best versions of ourselves if we learn how to take risks and face our fears.”
This work continues to move forward. This year, teachers continue to receive training in equitable instructional practices and engage in the tough conversations. John Prosser, BHS Assistant Principal shared, “Teachers are learning equity isn’t an add-on, it is the lens through which we make instructional and systemic decisions.” BHS strives to incorporate equity into all levels of decision making because at Bethel, all means all.
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Washington Principal | Volume 2 – 2020-21