Needs in Renton Innovation Zone (RIZ) schools are increasing, as displacement causes greater concern for student’s families. At Lakeridge, Campbell Hill, Bryn Mawr and Highlands elementary schools, there’s at least 105 homeless students, as defined by the McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Act, 8 percent of the schools’ population.
In part because of this need, the Renton School District’s RIZ strategy is expanding with a new partnership to address students’ education and well-being when off school grounds.
Renton Innovation Zone Partnership (RIZP) recently held a kickoff event and moved into an office space, symbolizing the beginning of a plan years in the making.
The RIZP is staffed by non-district employees working with out-of-school resources for students and their families. This is separate from RIZ, the in-school program led by district staff.
RIZ started from the West Hill NOW! campaign that attempted to raise funds and increase academic success at elementary schools in Skyway/West Hill area, including Lakeridge, Campbell Hill and Bryn Mawr elementary schools. When the program expanded to Highlands Elementary School, it was renamed to RIZ to reflect a broader geographic area. It then added the new Sartori Elementary School.
The RIZP mission, stated on its website, is “to lead a relationship-based, data informed collaborative network to advance racial equity and create healthy learning opportunities for all children throughout the Renton Innovation Zone.”
Executive Director Ryan Quigtar was hired in December, and two more staff were added this year. Quigtar grew up in Skyway, attending Lakeridge Elementary School, Dimmitt Middle School and Renton High School, and is in graduate school for communications. He was also a basketball coach at Renton and has relationships with some of the human service providers in the area.
“Coming into this knowing they would need a lot of coordinating, I think (my experience) really set us all up for success,” he said.
RIZP targets the same elementary schools as RIZ, except for Sartori. Quigtar said the partnership decided to stick to the four other schools to address a geographic need— Sartori is a magnet school that brings in students from all over the district. RIZP focuses community resources based on lower test scores and the areas with the highest needs.
In August 2017, the school district and leaders of various direct human services in Renton met to discuss how to support students and families. Many of these organizations were already doing work with local families, and the district knew it couldn’t support students in need alone, Quigtar said. After several meetings they created an improvement plan for the district, and established RIZP to see those goals through.
By the 2022-23 school year, the partnership wants 78 percent of students to be ready and registered for kindergarten, 74 percent of third graders to meeting the English language arts proficiency target and 74 percent of fourth graders to meet the mathematics proficiency target. There is a RIZP team for each goal: early learning, community and family engagement and basic needs.
“A lot of the plan was intentionally left undefined because we are looking for community voice. We want parents and family at the table when we are making decisions ultimately affecting them,” Quigtar said.
The first phase of the outreach was a RIZP kickoff event, on Saturday Sept. 28. In the coming months there will be community cafes and math nights where the nonprofit will look for feedback. The math nights are for kids ages 3-8 to explore math concepts with expert providers. The first is from 6 to 8 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 30, at Bryn Mawr United Methodist Church, and the second is from noon to 2 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 16 at the Highlands Neighborhood Center.
Many Renton groups make up the partnership. Quigtar gave examples of other partnership success in Renton to explain the potential of RIZP: the Science, Technology, Recreation, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STREAM) team in the Highlands and Urban Family Center’s Somali Youth and Family Club summer programs. He said RIZP communications help keep other partners connected to successful programs like these.
RIZP’s main fiscal sponsor is RVC, as of September. Before that, Community Center for Education Results helped RIZP gain its legs. It is also funded by the Ballmer Group, Boeing and the Renton Regional Community Foundation.
For Quigtar, growing up in Skyway, he said the unincorporated area hasn’t had much investment by anyone. But now it’s on the radar, and time to seize that opportunity with RIZP to find ways to empower families with human services, and empower them to teach their students and in turn increase a child’s confidence.
“Now it’s up to us, the leaders in the community, to empower parents,” Quigtar said. “They’re the leader in their child’s education.”
Some rules will need to bend or break to make this happen at the district level, Quigtar said, which he says has been a welcome idea. He wants to push the envelope on how success is measured for these students.
Quigtar said the partnership’s new website is meant to be a hub for family resources, including information on RIZP and contacts for local organizations supporting basic needs, employment and childcare. This information and more is available at RIZPartnership.org.