Monday, February 16, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Why Riley Picked Eckstein For Speech

Seattle Times Staff Reporters

Jeffrey Mushen, an eighth-grader at Seattle's Eckstein Middle School, thinks it's "pretty cool" the U.S. secretary of education will give the State of American Education speech at his school tomorrow.

"I mean, how many middle schools are there in the country - 7,000 or something? And out of all those, he chose ours? That says a lot for our school," Mushen said.

Mushen, Eckstein's student-body president, will be presenting Secretary Richard Riley with a school sweat shirt, pen and banner after tomorrow's 11 a.m. address.

"It should be fun," said Mushen, who has already memorized his speech.

This is Riley's fifth annual state-of-education address, his first from a West Coast location. About 800 people are expected.

Riley is expected to raise a half-dozen or so key themes in his 45-minute address, said his spokeswoman, Julie Green. They will include a push for higher academic standards and the need for educators to reach consensus on politically charged questions about what should be taught in the classroom.

And he'll talk about the importance of middle schools, an often-overlooked level when adolescents are making important decisions that will affect their lives.

Among the reasons he chose Eckstein are its strong math and foreign-language programs, its use of technology and its effort to get students to think about college early on, Green said.

Riley also is expected to talk about issues President Clinton raised in his State of the Union address last month: reducing class sizes, beefing up after-school programs and spending more on school construction.

The speech will be broadcast nationally and over the Internet.

Riley chose Washington because of the work the state has done in raising academic standards, Green said, and because the state illustrates some of the issues he wants to address, including the impact of overcrowding in the classroom and the need for school construction.

Ellen Cross, an Eckstein eighth-grader, agrees with him on that.

"We need more money so we can fix the portables," she said. "The tiles are falling from the ceiling."

And if Riley is having difficulty trying to decide what else to include in his speech, Eckstein students have some suggestions.

Askale Shiferaw, a seventh-grader, says there should be additional after-school programs. Also, she said, she wants teachers to get paid more.

Mushen, the eighth-grader, wants additional sports offered at the school and more computers.

Seventy-five percent of the non-bilingual, non-special-education seventh- and eighth-graders at Eckstein, a Wedgwood-area school, are enrolled in a foreign-language class and 73 percent of all eighth-graders are enrolled in either algebra or enriched math. All eighth-graders are exposed to at least some algebra in their math courses, said Eckstein Principal Lynn Caldwell.

"If I ask seventh- and eighth-graders if they want to go to college, everyone will raise their hand," Caldwell said. "We must keep the target in front of them."

To do this, Caldwell says, Eckstein, with an enrollment of 1,170 and 250 students on its wait-list, sends its eighth-graders to the Western Regional College Fair in Seattle each year.

Also, Eckstein students visit the University of Washington throughout the year for events, including the health-science fair and the engineering open house.

Once a year, a motivational speaker comes to the school to tell students that a strong education can help open doors for them, another way to keep the "target" of college in front of them, Caldwell said.

To expose the students to foreign-language courses, Eckstein requires all sixth-graders to enroll in a 10-week "Foreign Language Exploratory" course, which includes two weeks each in Spanish, French and Japanese and the remainder of the time in sign language and some Latin. Caldwell says it's to whet their appetite for a foreign language.

"I think Mr. Riley chose a good school," said Nancy Waldman, who has two children at Eckstein. "This is a good showcase for his platform."

Although Eckstein will be closed tomorrow, as will all the Seattle public schools, for mid-winter break, some students will report to the school to help with the event.

Twenty students will help direct people around the building, and the school's jazz band and orchestra will perform.

About 100 members of Local 609, the International Union of Operating Engineers representing custodians, food-service workers, security staff and gardeners, are planning to picket Riley's speech tomorrow in an attempt to get the district's attention on a contract dispute that began in June.

"It's just gone on long enough," said David Westberg, business manager for the union. "We're frustrated with the lack of progress and bargaining."

Tamra Fitzpatrick's phone message number is 206-464-8981. Her e-mail address is:

Jolayne Houtz's phone message number is 206-464-3122. Her e-mail address is:

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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