From left: DeeDee Evergreen (braillist), Byron Riley (speech therapist), Ashley Burchett (psychologist) at Washington Middle School.
Washington Middle School psychologist Ashley Burchett, far right, today on the picket line. She was joined by school braillist DeeDee Evergreen, far left, and speech therapist Byron Riley, center. Sydney Brownstone

Washington Middle School
School psychologist
Salary: $51,290

Why are you here today?

Seattle as a whole has a lot going on with it, but Washington [Middle School] is a unique apple. For 1,170 students, the district has allocated for me to be here 3.5 days a week. The old standard, according to the national school psychology governing body, is that there is one psychologist per 1,000 students. The current standard is that depending upon factors of free or reduced lunch, there should be one psychologist per 500 to 750 students.

So because these students have greater needs...

There's nothing like Washington Middle School. We have the advanced learning students, about a third of the building. About a third of the building is students for whom English is not their primary language. We have 30 percent African American students. There's no other building at the middle school level the size of Washington that has the makeup of it. I may be working with one student in the highly capable program who has severe anxiety and is staying up until 2 o'clock in the morning, freaking out about getting his Algebra 2 homework done. And then the next kid has a kindergarten reading level and is in the eighth grade. So having the ability and the resources to serve that diverse of a population and trying to have consistent practices as a building for that diverse of a population is very difficult and requires the support of Educational Staff Associates.

So the current contract, which is expired, says that we "will be working towards" one psychologist per 1,050 students. And the big thing that we're advocating for is to have the "working towards" taken out so the number is actually a number, and if you go over it, you can do something about it. Now, last year, I was here four days a week. The enrollment's gone up. My FTE, the amount of time I'm allowed to be here, has gone down. How is that working "towards"? The psychologist at Garfield? 1,700 students, four days a week. Franklin High School? 1,400 students, 4.5 days a week. So just not having 14 hour days so I can feel like I can sort of do my job [would be nice]. Because if I were to list to you the number of things that I was trained to do, that I've done in other districts, that I don't even start doing here because I don't have the time...

Tell me. Just throw out a couple.

Psychologists, according to national standards, are supposed to provide support at an individual, small group, and systems level. We don't do systems-level work because we can't get there. We're still putting out fires. So in previous districts I have worked with the administration and the academic support staff to do researched, evidence-based interventions for students who are struggling. "You have this problem with math? He has this problem with math. Why wouldn't we use the same strategy to help you?" We're not there, we can't get there yet.

And when you say you're still putting out fires, what do you mean?

This kid is literally throwing a chair across the room. What are we going to do to fix that? This kid is an eighth grader reading at the kindergarten level. How do we identify the barriers and get him support now?

Do you live in the Central District?

I do. This is my neighborhood school.

Are you renting? Can you afford to live where you rent?

Yes. I have a sugar daddy. I'm married to a computer programmer. Thank you, Jesus.

[Another SEA member asks: If you didn't?]

Oh, yeah, no. No, I wouldn't be able to. Not between day-care and student loans.

Why do you think the district hasn't been able to address these issues? Is it a district-level problem? A state-level one?

I think it's both. I think it's definitely a state-level problem. And Seattle is the largest district in the state. So doing anything with that many people requires that much more coordination. And if you're not organized and systematic to start with, doing it with four times as many people, you have that many more opportunities to be inconsistent and disorganized. Obviously there are other districts that are dealing with the same issues as a result of the state... better. We're just taking a problem and making it worse. We're too reactive. It's all, "We'll fix that tomorrow. We'll talk about it in that meeting next week." Like, if you don't deal with this right now, everything will magically go away when we wake up tomorrow.

Washington Middle School
Speech therapist
Salary: $3,800/month

[Riley's holding a sign advocating for a hard cap on caseloads.] What's your caseload like?

I'm not sure about this year, but my first year it was 72. My second year was 62. Last year it ranged in the mid-50s. I worked in Kent two years before I came here—this is going to be my fourth year. In Kent, we had a caseload cap at 45. And based on working in both environments, it is very taxing to work in this district. But I chose to work here because the commute was so long to Kent, but that was my fault because I was kind of new at the time. I didn't research the fact that they don't have caseload caps here.

My national organization recommends around 47, and that I think is feasible. Seventy-two is not feasible. It burns you out. I'm not burned out, but if I had to do that for another 10 years, I would be burned out. I'm here for the caseload cap. "Working towards," what does that mean? We really haven't seen any kind of change. I'm also here because I can't afford to live in the city.

Tell me about that.

I live in West Seattle. My wife is also a teacher in Kent. But together we couldn't afford to buy a house here. And if we did it would be a tiny, two-bedroom rundown house with one bathroom. And that's not big enough to raise a family.

Do you have any children?

No. But all these guys are my children. I have 72 children.

Is the decision to have children partially based on some of these issues?

Yeah, we've talked about it, recently, and it's very upsetting, the fact that we could have children—obviously—but without a home we feel is sufficient to raise them... really upsets her. I always like to think about the positive side, like yeah, it'll work out. But deep inside I know that we don't make enough money to buy a house here and work in Seattle. And we want to stay here. I love this school. As a speech therapist, you move around a lot. But I have chosen to stay at Washington because I love the staff here. Not that I didn't love the staff at the other schools I was at. I just feel that this is home for me. So I never want to leave this school. But we are looking at buying a house next year and we're not looking in Seattle.

Where are you looking?

We're looking at Renton and Maple Valley where we can find a house that's not built in the 1950s or '40s that we can afford. We don't want to live out of Seattle. We love it here.

Has rent increased for you?

Yeah, about $100.

What's your student loan debt?

It's over $100,000. My payment is $410 a month. And I have two masters. And I could totally make more in the private sector.

Why are you not doing that?

Because I've always wanted to work in a school, and it helps me with my student loan debt. If I make enough payments working in a school, I get some of it taken off. Not all of it. Otherwise I could never pay it off.

What do you make of the School Board voting to give the superintendent the authority to pursue legal action against the strike?

It's kind of scary. I guess it's threatening to kick us back or put us in jail.

It would probably be a temporary restraining order. So a court could levy fines or hold individuals or groups in contempt.

It is scary. It's scary to be here. I need to work. I need to pay my bills. But this is for the kids, that's what it all comes down to. It's making sure they get what they need, whether it's more time from the speech therapist, or the counselor's time, or the psychologist. She's stretched thin. The kids need all that stuff.

Sue Quigley (right), sixth grade counselor at Washington Middle School.
Sue Quigley (right), sixth grade counselor at Washington Middle School. Sydney Brownstone

Washington Middle School
Sixth grade counselor
Salary: $65,000

What's the most important issue to you today? Why are you here?

One, we had the idea of having an equity team here at Washington a few years ago. Because we have struggled with disparity, with discipline practices among the different ethnicities. And we as a union we want to have equity teams at each school to make sure there are equitable practices with discipline. And the district came back and said, "Yeah, you can have them at, like, six schools." That's a problem.

But the other thing is I've been with the Seattle school district since 2000, I've been a counselor for 17 years, working with mostly at-risk youth, and I can barely afford to live. I have a masters degree, plus. And I can barely afford to live where I live. And teachers just starting out can't afford to live here. To me that shows the utter disrespect for our position. As a counselor I have over 400 students that I am responsible for.


I am their only counselor. It's not just scheduling, we have issues here—we have a lot of families who are really struggling in every way possible. Financially, economically, emotionally, and kids come here... I had a kid come here last year with a paper bag for a book bag. That's all he had. A paper bag. He had no school supplies whatsoever. So, yes, we have the APP program for students who are doing pretty well, but our school in particular runs the gamut, from students I just described to families that live down by the lake. But there needs to be equity in the city of Seattle. All the money that is here now, there needs to be equity in how our educators are paid, so we can support those families. As a counselor I feel very strongly about that.

Where do you live?

I live in West Seattle.

Who should we be angry at? Is it the district, is it because we're unconstitutionally underfunding our schools statewide? Where's the source of the problem?

Yeah. The other thing to be angry about, if you want to put it in those terms, is particularly the school—we work here in Central Seattle. There's huge inequity between the North End schools and the South End schools in terms of resources. Even the issue of recess, it's a well-known fact that schools in our area, in the Central District, the elementary kids, they may have 15, 20 minutes for recess. Schools in the North End, they have 45 minutes.

We have a lot of community partners that want to work here at Washington, but a lot of it is, 'No we can't do that, we can't do that, no we can't afford that.' And the district is constantly telling us about the pay increase [Ed. note: Seattle Public Schools received $40 million from the state this year], but it's, 'No we can't do that, no we can't afford that.' What other business are you asked to work extra for free? The people who work in our office, and the instructional assistants, they work for free so much it's a crime. People that drive buses for Metro, if the Metro bus driver has to go check out the lost and found for their bus, do you know they get paid overtime for that? They do. Do our office workers or teachers aides get any kind of overtime for that? No, they're expected to work for free. And I'm a counselor. I'm expected to work a lot of hours to get the schedules ready, to get everything ready. And it's not commensurate if I worked for Amazon or Microsoft. "Oh, it's a calling, it's a religious calling." No it's not! It's a job.

So when you have more than 400 students, what kinds of problems do you run into? You said you had a kid who showed up with a paper bag.

Homelessness. A lot of homelessness at the school. I've worked really hard to find resources for a lot of my families. And I'm not saying that to be a martyr. It's just true. Emotional abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse. There's a lot of this "no snitching" thing in this community. So if someone gets beat up, it's "I dunno." One of our kids got beaten down by somebody in the park over and he was like [Shrugs]. So it's a lot of that. But it's also families and kids in our district need resources that they just don't have. It's really hard. They're barely making it as it is. So that's just a lot of it. And then the kids themselves. It's middle school. It's everything that comes with middle school.

Karl Schmitz, eighth grade social studies and sixth grade ESL teacher at Washington Middle School.
Karl Schmitz, eighth grade social studies and sixth grade ESL teacher at Washington Middle School. Sydney Brownstone

Washington Middle School
Eighth grade Social Studies/English as a Second Language
Pay: Unsure, top of the pay scale (first-year teachers make $44,000; teachers with PhDs and 15 years of teaching can make up to $85,000)

Do you live in the neighborhood?

I live in Snohomish.

Why do you live in Snohomish?

Because my grandchildren are there. I've got 14 of them. I've been teaching here 29 years here in the same classroom. It's a neat place to work, a lot of diversity. A lot of challenges are here.

What do you mean by that?

Socioeconomic, and the different types of programs that are different than the average classroom. I teach an accelerated program here. I have also taught seriously behavior-disordered kids. You have the full gamut of types of students and pretty much an inclusion type of environment rather than separated in special schools and stuff like that.

Are those kids getting the resources that they need?

Of course not. Seattle, for the last 10, 15 years, has spent all of its money on its crystal palace.

Its crystal palace?

The place where the administrators sit. The people who take executive jobs in the district in order to become superintendents in smaller districts.

What's the issue you're most passionate about? Why are you here today?

The issue I'm most passionate about is class size and fair pay for the younger teachers. I've watched just excellent, excellent teachers come into our system—phenomenal teachers—that stay with us for a year or two and then go to other districts where the pay and the facilities and the resources are better. Our district doesn't appreciate them. They just work them to death. It makes me sad to see that happen. Right now, we've got another group of brand new teachers here that look like they're really going to be great teachers in a year or two. And by the time they become really great teachers they'll be snatched away somewhere else.

And then the size of the classes, you know. Do you know how hard it is to get to know 150 kids?

No, I don't.

Think about it for a second. If you were given 150 children and had to get their names and service each individually and get to know what they want and know what they need, it's really, really difficult. It takes a lot of experience to be able to do that. That would be my main issue. I retired from the Air Force in 1987 in order to become a teacher. And my Air Force pay has always been greater than my teaching pay.

Really? Every month?

Yeah. I don't do this for a living. I don't know how my colleagues who are just plain teachers who don't get retirement pay get along. They don't. Very few of them have homes within the district because it's too expensive. Very few of them have families because they can't afford it. There are teachers here who have children and more than half of their pay is going to pay for their medical because their children have some problems. More than half of their take-home pay is medical.

Tell me about the conditions in your classroom.

You and I are having a one-on-one here. How would it be if there were 149 other reporters waiting for their turn right now?


The district blames all of the problems that the students have on the teachers. That would be like blaming the loss of a war on the soldiers rather than the generals.

Class sizes are a state-wide issue. How much should we be blaming the state legislature?

Right now we are on strike against the district for not giving us a contract that we think is fair. We have no argument with the state right now. They've given us a cost of living allowance, but we haven't had one in six years prior to that. So what they've given us is a pittance, not anywhere near what they've given themselves.

These interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.