By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
Twelve individuals were honored at the Women of Power in Education luncheon held on Sept. 24 at China Harbor Restaurant.
From school counselors and college professors to superintendents and education association presidents, the honorees were recognized for their contributions to education in Washington state.
The luncheon was organized by the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation.
“I think [the Women of Power in Education lunch is] one of the singular most important events in this city,” said master of ceremonies Mona Bailey. “Women of color are the unsung heroes in our communities, in our state — even beyond our state.”
With more than 35 years of experience in the industry, Tukwila School District Superintendent Ethelda Burke said one of the challenges they face in education is the need to level the playing field for all students.
She would like to see less advantaged children be able to ask for and receive help. One way for that to happen is money. Burke said, “I’d like to have sustained funding.”
While money would help, it’s not enough for Washington Education Association (WEA) President Mary Lindquist. She said schools need to broaden and diversify their curricula as well as their faculties. Students also need to view education as their vehicle to living happy and fulfilling lives. “Money alone may not be the solution. I do not believe that we can solve any of these core issues [just with money],” she said.
Trise Moore, an advocate for Effective Family School Partnerships, said there needs to be more culturally competent teachers. However, Moore states that what matters most is listening to our children and focusing on the relationship between the educator and student, not the data.
Assistant Superintendent of Student Achievement for the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction Erin Jones said another challenge is making the American dream possible for everyone, which will require a complete paradigm shift. She said, “It’s really what we believe about our children. All of those young people, they are our responsibility.”
With the country becoming more of a minority majority, Bellevue Public Schools Superintendent Amalia Cudeiro states that in order to better serve students, educators must have a clear understanding of where each student is not just educationally, but mentally and emotionally, and must address their individual needs. She said, “It’s not about delivering a planned curriculum. [It’s] a huge challenge for all of us.”
Christine Katayama, a professor for City University, said serving students — both children and adults — is a collaborative effort. “I think we have a lot of talented educators in our school systems,” she said. “It takes every one of us as advocates.”
Frieda Takamura, a retired educator and former human and civil rights coordinator for the WEA, states that in order to better serve students, we must all become involved. “The fact that education is a political act can’t be lost. You have to be involved in the systems,” she said. “[Educators] must be the role models to help people do that.”
As someone who has worked her way up the education ladder, Whatcom Community College President Kathi Hiyane-Brown said that one way she has overcome the glass ceiling is being true to herself and remembering why she went into education in the first place. “It’s about knowing yourself. It’s being passionate about what you do,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone.”
Rachel Solemsaas, vice president of administrative services for Bellevue College, echoed the sentiment that overcoming the glass ceiling is about being true to one’s self. She said people should celebrate their heritage and represent their true selves.
Patricia Whitefoot, president and director of the Washington Indian Education Association, said it is important to remember where you came from. Whitefoot has overcome the glass ceiling by being mindful of her ancestors and not letting others stop her from achieving her goals.
When it comes to higher education, University of Washington Asian American Studies professor Shirley Hune said there have been improvements but that minorities still face many barriers, one of which is the notion that they operate at a deficit and are viewed as perpetual foreigners. Having a diverse faculty can help with this issue. “The only way to change the conversation is to change the knowledge base,” she said.
“We need to write that history.”
Everett High School counselor Lillian Ortiz-Self said in order to overcome these barriers, the United States needs a paradigm shift. She said educators need to believe in their students and encourage them to “keep running” toward their goals. Ortiz-Self sees this determination among her students and is constantly amazed. “[My students] inspire me daily,” she said. ♦
For more information, visit www.womenofcolorempowered.com.
Samantha Pak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.