PRESS RELEASE: Tacoma Schools to Host National Commission On Social, Emotional, Academic Development

November 3, 2017

Event to focus on school-community lens for supporting whole child

Contact: Melissa Mellor
The Aspen Institute, (202) 736-3552

Washington, D.C. – November 3, 2017 – The Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development will visit Tacoma (Wash.) Public Schools and hear from local leaders on how the city is integrating school- and community-based approaches to give all students a comprehensive education. The 25-member Commission and other affiliated experts will meet with educators, students, and policymakers during its Nov. 7-9 convening.

For nearly a decade, Tacoma Public Schools has been at the forefront of Washington State’s work to build students’ social and emotional skills. Under the Tacoma Whole Child Initiative, elementary and secondary schools across the district have worked to create positive learning environments for students, communicate clear expectations for behavior, monitor their social and emotional well-being, and tailor support based on student needs. The initiative builds on an array of partners such as the University of Washington-Tacoma; Comprehensive Life Resources, a local behavioral health agency; and the Boys and Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound.

“The National Commission is committed to learning from practitioners about what it takes to support social, emotional, and academic development,” said Jacqueline M. Jodl, the director of the Commission. “The Tacoma district’s relationships with community partners is inspiring, and we look forward to learning more about how they have created and sustained an initiative that is showing real benefits for students.”

“We know that students do best when they’re safe, healthy, engaged, supported, and challenged,” said Carla Santorno, the superintendent of the Tacoma school district. She noted that schools across the district have seen substantial decreases in suspensions and expulsions and have closed graduation gaps between white students and students of color since the launch of the Tacoma Whole Child Initiative. “That’s why we insisted that every school create a social-emotional learning plan and commit to shaping a positive school community that holds itself accountable for supporting and educating the whole child.”

In addition, Tacoma Public Schools has seen a steady rise in its graduation rates from 55 percent in 2010 to a record high of 85 percent with the Class of 2016.

Learning from Success
On their first evening, Commissioners will hear from many of the local partners engaged in the Tacoma school district’s social and emotional learning initiative, including the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, University of Washington-Tacoma, and Schools Out Washington.

Commissioners will start the day on Nov. 8 with site visits to Jason Lee Middle School and the Science and Math Institute (SAMi), a four-year high school embedded in a 760-acre urban forest park, zoo, and aquarium. Both schools exemplify the district’s commitment to fully integrating social, emotional, and academic development in all aspects of the school day.

“The Commissioners are eager to see on-the-ground examples of social, emotional, and academic development, particularly where educators are making the integration of these aspects of learning a priority in all of their work,” Jodl said. “We’re also excited to hear from Tacoma students on the challenges and successes of the initiative.”

On Nov. 9, Commissioners will talk with local and national experts to learn more about the role of measurement in social and emotional development; the intersections between social, emotional, and academic development and equity; and the ways in which state policymakers can support local efforts to prioritize social, emotional, and academic development.

Please Join Our Livestream From Tacoma

What: How States Support and Strengthen Local Leadership

When: Thursday, Nov. 9, 11:15-12:15 (PST)

Who: Governor John Engler, Former President, Business Roundtable; Former Governor of Michigan; Meria Carstarphen, superintendent, Atlanta Public Schools; Steve Canavero, Superintendent, Nevada Depart of Education
Jim Porter, Chair, Kansas State Board of Education

How:  Join the livestream here.

Reporters interested in attending the event should contact Melissa Mellor for a list of activities that are open to the media

Fulfilling a Mission

The Commission, launched last fall, is led by co-chairs Linda Darling Hammond, president and chief executive officer of the Learning Policy Institute; Governor John Engler, immediate past president of the Business Roundtable and former Michigan governor; and Tim Shriver, co-founder and chair of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning and chairman of the Special Olympics. The Commission includes senior leaders from the fields of education and youth development, government, academia, business, and the military.

The Commission will meet over the next year and convene stakeholders—including committees of students, parents, educators, scholars, funders, and partner organizations from all parts of the country and different political philosophies—to develop recommendations in research, practice, and policy that will help the nation’s schools work with their communities to support the whole student.

The Commission is engaging communities nationwide and will share the promising practices and innovative policies learned from these exchanges in a Report From the Nation in late 2018

About the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development
The National Commission is engaging and energizing communities to fully integrate social, emotional, and academic development in K-12 education so that all students are prepared to thrive in school, career, and life. To learn more, visit and follow the Commission on Twitter at @AspenSEAD.

About the Aspen Institute
The Aspen Institute is a nonpartisan forum for values-based leadership and the exchange of ideas. The Institute is based in Washington, D.C. and has campuses in Aspen, Colo., and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It also has offices in New York City and an international network of partners. For more information, visit

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