State legislator hosts town hall to open discussion about education system

schools: Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, holds forum to gather feedback on conditions

of the GatewayFebruary 19, 2014 

State Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, responds to a question from an audience member.

HUGH MCMILLAN/SPECIAL TO THE GATEWAY

Education is a hot topic this legislative session, since the state Supreme Court handed down its McCleary decision, a missive to the Legislature to fully fund basic education.

Yet it’s a conversation that isn’t limited to Olympia.

State Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, held a town hall last Wednesday night to discuss education at Key Peninsula Middle School.

Seaquist, who is on the House Higher Education committee, shared some thoughts about the state’s role in education, especially in light of the McCleary decision. For the most part, however, he acted as an emcee and kept things to a rule of order.

Parents, Peninsula School District board members, teachers and other officials, about 75 people in all, participated.

Peninsula High School math teacher Sheri Ahlheim talked about education from a classroom perspective. She said a shortage of math teachers and an influx of students is a huge problem. The shift to new state standards with Common Core means more one-on-one time to bring students up to speed, she said.

“How can I do this with no support and more kids in the class?” Ahlheim asked.

Seaquist said he would like to see teachers have more autonomy in how to run their classrooms. He compared teachers who are buried by regulations to “Gulliver’s Travels,” when the title character is tied down with strings.

“If we could turn the teachers loose,” he said, “they would do a wonderful job.”

Colleen Speer from Communities in Schools of Peninsula, talked about how her organization fills gaps in the education system with tutoring and after-school help. She said there are about 150 trained tutors in the CISP system.

“We find most of the students that go through our program advance to the next grade level,” Speer said.

Barb Trotter, who works in the front office at KPMS and is a former school board member, said paraeducators and other personnel believe in the power of a good education. She is the president of the clerical union and represents about 280 people.

“Our people show up and work every day because they love what they do,” Trotter said.

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