HCC in Seattle Schools. Fix it. Don’t Cut it!

Seattle Public School students

The Highly Capable Cohort (HCC) in Seattle Public Schools is once again on the chopping block. On September 25 Superintendent Juneau proposed the sweeping elimination of this program.

Two years ago, the School Board passed a resolution directing the Superintendent to “implement, by school year 2019-20, more equitable identification practices for advanced learning and highly capable services.” The directive was to correct in multiple ways the historic inequities and institutional racism in advanced learning. They unequivocally required staff to find ways to identify more students of color with high cognitive ability or high achievement in one or more academic areas.

In response, Juneau’s staff just proposed a plan that would eliminate the Highly Capable Cohort due to the long-standing racial imbalance of the program. All students would attend neighborhood schools, and advanced learning needs would be met by “flexible grouping” within larger classrooms.Advanced classes comparable to the phased out Spectrum program would be available, so perhaps the plan is to “flexibly group” the most highly capable students within these.

There is no mention of alternative delivery models that might do a better job addressing the unique academic needs of these students. This leads me to believe that HCC families have not been part of the discussion. In the past they have fought and won many battles on behalf of their children.

When I was on the School Board in 2012 we directed staff to increase identification of students of color as well as English Language Learners within advanced learning. Very little was done, and the APP program remained predominantly white. Some families wanted their children to be with other students within larger schools, such as the cohort at Washington Middle School. Others fought for APP-only schools and won Cascadia Elementary by the slimmest possible School Board majority.

It’s easy to take a stand against the institutional racism that is historic and obvious. There’s no denying that we’ve overlooked and under-served highly capable students of color. That being said, cutting HCC altogether will eliminate the most rigorous learning opportunities for all students, including the students of color we are now focused on identifying.

Why are we doing this in the pursuit of equity? Why not follow the recommendations of the Task Force the School Board assembled to dig into this issue?

These recommendations clearly support preserving the Highly Capable cohort, while also implementing improved ways of identifying and including highly capable students of color. The Task Force and Juneau are in agreement on the need to improve identification. Juneau’s plan goes far in ensuring advanced learning opportunities in all schools, but it does not address the needs of students currently served in the Highly Capable cohort. These students are such a small percent of the student population that they cannot fill a normal class in a neighborhood school. This is one of the reasons they have been grouped as a cohort.

This cohort has been repeatedly moved from one part of the district to another. Should they have their own schools, or be housed within comprehensive schools?

There are many facets to this argument. It can and should resume until we reach an understanding that fully resolves the equity issues. That being said, we cannot deny the unique academic needs of these students that have been successfully met with the APP and HCC programs. We need to preserve what works and modify the delivery models so they are culturally sensitive, inclusive and welcoming.