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McKenny Elementary: A Model Equity School Faces Closure Under Supposed Equity-Minded District Board

Yes, I know, you read the title correctly! McKenny Elementary School, one of the most diverse and effective elementary schools at providing learning growth to ALL types of students, is at risk of being closed by the Olympia School District who aims to be equity minded. First, for full transparency, I must state that as a parent of two children who continue to thrive at McKenny Elementary School, our family would be saddened if the school closes. However, what motivates me most in writing this piece, is the way in which the district’s plan contradicts its own equity goals and the community’s at large. Let me explain.


Simply put, equity is the act of meeting people where they are. It is the commitment and ability to identify barriers that stand in the way of people’s potential to achieve successful outcomes. To better illustrate this, imagine a student named Zack, a third grader, living in a single parent household. Although his mom is employed, they are living barely above the poverty line. Their situation impacts Zack academically and causes him to fall behind. As Zack returns to the classroom, after two years of covid-induced academic disruption, there should be adapted and targeted support to help him get back on track.


This is an extremely difficult task for schools to achieve because of how disparate student populations are. Schools typically cater to the affluent students, at the expense of the Zacks of our community. To be successful, schools must be equity-minded in their culture and this begins with leadership and trickles down to every aspect of operations. This is what Mckenny does well.


The Measure of Academic Progress is a measure that helps schools assess how well they are meeting this challenge of meeting students where they are and closing the equity gap. The higher a school’s MAP scores, demonstrates how effective the school is at taking students from where they are situated and putting them on a path of academic success. According to the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, McKenny has the highest rate of learning growth of any elementary school in the Olympia School District. Additionally, with 40% of its student population being non-white, McKenny has the most diverse student body in the SE area according to the Olympia School District’s website, See Table 1 and chart 1 for a comparative analysis of a subset of schools in the SE area.


Table 1: Comparative Learning Growth Between SE Area Olympia Elementary Schools

School

Growth in Math (%)

Growth in ELA(%)

Mckenny Elementary

36.8

40.2

Centennial Elementary

21.4

28.8

Pioneer Elementary

27.3

30.3


Chart 1: Comparative Learning Growth between Olympia SE area Elementary Schools
Chart 1: Comparative Learning Growth between Olympia SE area Elementary Schools

Such results as shown above, require astute leadership that prioritizes not just academic

Welcome sign during McKenny's yearly cultural kaleidoscope
Welcome sign during McKenny's yearly cultural kaleidoscope

success but social, emotional, and cross-cultural skills.


A likely underlying assumption from the board leadership in deciding to consider McKenny for closure, is that Centennial and Pioneer are high performing schools and therefore, transferring McKenny school kids will do no harm. Unfortunately this plan flies in the face of history and research. The Zacks of our community tend to get lost in larger and homogeneous systems.

The question at hand is this: do we truly value equity and quality education for ALL students or when the rubber meets the road, do we go back down the same old path we know fails the Zacks of our community?


The latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), or “The Nation’s Report Card”, in its assessment states that "some two decades of academic progress have been wiped out during the pandemic years. If student performance improvement follows historical pre-pandemic trends, it could take decades for students to fully catch up". To address this enormous challenge before us, we should not be closing a school that is leading the way in removing equity gaps. But rather, we should be learning from McKenny School's leadership and staff to meet this moment and truly serve ALL our students, including the Zacks in our midst, who comprise 34% of our community.


If this article compels you to act, here are a few ways you can help:

  1. Sign this petition here.

  2. Email superintendent Patrick Murphy here.

  3. Contact by phone board directors here (by phone preferably).

  4. Increase awareness by sharing this article far and wide.

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