Yes, Another Quality Public School Option for our Communities is Something to Celebrate

By Walter Chen, Principal of RVLA Middle School & Arneidra Lloyd, Principal of RVLA High School

October is National Principal’s Month, and Rainier Valley Leadership Academy’s two leaders — Principal Arneidra Lloyd (RVLA High School) and Principal Walter Chen (RVLA Middle School) — took the time to reflect on what it means to truly do right by our kids. After recent SBAC scores showed continued achievement gaps throughout the state of Washington — with charter public schools serving as one of the few areas of progress — Principals Lloyd and Chen thought about what educators and communities can do to level the playing field for our children. Their answer? To embrace more quality public education options that aim to address the inequities that hold students back, rather than reject schools on the basis of politics.

Principals Lloyd and Chen recently shared their perspective with NW Asian Weekly, an influential local paper based in Seattle’s International District with deep ties to the communities RVLA serves. You can find the published piece here, or read the full text with some additional thoughts from Walter and Arneidra below.

“We’re lucky we get to live in such a vibrant, diverse neighborhood — and we want that to be mirrored in what our students learn and who teaches them. We provide our students with a diverse range of academic resources and learning tools that represent a myriad of perspectives in history and literature — in a way that parallels the different cultures and voices of our community. Like us, many of our teachers come from our community and from diverse backgrounds. We know how important it is for our students to see themselves reflected in the people who teach and mentor them every day in their road to higher education.”

Last year, thanks to the community’s warm welcome and the hard work of so many, Rainier Valley Leadership Academy (RVLA) Middle School opened its doors for the first time to the families of Rainier Valley. This fall, we are welcoming a partnering high school, RVLA High School, to the family of Green Dot Public Schools in Washington. Like our middle school, RVLA HS offers a high quality, public, tuition-free education focused on college prep — aimed at serving the diverse populations of Southeast Seattle. A ribbon cutting ceremony was held to celebrate the schools and the opening of RVLA Middle School’s new campus– and yes, this is something we should celebrate as a community.

There are people who would argue otherwise. The past few years have generated intense public education debates throughout our city and the state on what public education options should be available to families and students. Why is another quality public education option for our families a bad thing? Politics aside, new academic opportunities that reflect our community are something we can all embrace. The one thing we as educators hear over and over again is that parents want to enroll at local, high-quality public schools that are a good fit for their kids. RVLA is here to help answer that call.

RVLA Middle and High School offer rigorous college preparatory programs and intentionally tailor practices and programs to fit the unique needs of the communities we serve. So what does that look like in our community in South Seattle? Our robust STEAM curriculum focuses on computer science and coding, the arts, and our own unique set of instruction tactics that ensure all students — not just some — get the attention they need and are set on a path to college.

We’re lucky we get to live in such a vibrant, diverse neighborhood — and we want that to be mirrored in what our students learn and who teaches them. We provide our students with a diverse range of academic resources and learning tools that represent a myriad of perspectives in history and literature — in a way that parallels the different cultures and voices of our community. Like us, many of our teachers come from our community and from diverse backgrounds. We know how important it is for our students to see themselves reflected in the people who teach and mentor them every day in their road to higher education.

Of course, we want our students to exceed not just in college but in life beyond it. This is why we focus on student growth academically, emotionally, and mentally — because the steps students make in their paths to success are far more reflective of their hard work than a single test score could ever be. To us, success is more than just academic — it’s the growth we see every day as our students gradually become the critical thinkers and leaders of tomorrow.

It’s no secret that our state public education system has failed to provide the opportunities needed by all students to grow and succeed — and our achievement rates show it. As Washington natives and long-term residents of the South End, we know our community is one of those that has been ignored. RVLA seeks to add to the family of public education options our community has to offer — and continues to drive a conversation about the role of great public education in closing the opportunity gaps that has historically left our community behind. We are proud of what we’ve been able to achieve in just a short amount of time — recent data showed that Green Dot’s students exceeded nationally-normed growth projections in both math and reading. Our own RVLA Middle School students showed tremendous academic growth on the SBAC exam as they scored the highest across the national Green Dot network in math and second-highest in English Language Arts.

While some people protest our schools and question our motives, we know why we are here and why we fight to stay: to do right by our kids — all kids — and give each of them every opportunity to grow, succeed, and thrive. Great schools form the foundation for great communities and great outcomes for students. It is with that understanding that we will continue work tirelessly to bring more quality education and opportunity to communities that have long deserved them. As the leaders of both RVLA Middle School and RVLA High School, we are so excited for what lies ahead and invite all to learn more about us and to join the continued celebration of our schools — because that is exactly what new public schools should be. Celebrated.