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Minority becomes the majority in Federal Way schools

Federal Way School District
Federal Way School District's student demographics.
— image credit: Graphic by Kyra Low

In the past few years, the demographic of Federal Way schools has changed dramatically.

In the 2000-2001 school year, minority race students were indeed the minority at 36 percent, according to the Federal Way School District.

That is no longer the case. In the last school year, minority students — those of African American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Asian, Hispanic, Hawaiian Pacific, Latino or a mixed race background — were the majority of the student population at 56 percent. White students were 43 percent, and 1 percent of students were unidentified.

Federal Way, the seventh largest district in the state, has now joined other large school districts where the minority is now the majority, including Tukwila, Seattle, Highline, Renton, Kent and Tacoma.

The City of Federal Way hasn't quite caught up to these numbers.

In early 2000, according to the U.S. Census, Federal Way had a minority population of 35 percent, just slightly lower than the school district's 36 percent.

However, according to 2007 American Community Survey, which the U.S. Census uses, Federal Way had a minority population of 42 percent. However, schools had jumped to 49 percent and again to 56 percent by 2008-2009, the most recent school year.

What it means

For the school district, a larger minority population means extra emphasis on closing the achievement gap — something the district was already working on before the population jump, Chief Financial Officer Sally McLean said.

"The achievement gap was a concern even before we saw a swing," McLean said. "We are always finding ways to connect with the various communities."

The district really started taking a look at the achievement gap in the early 2000s. McLean said the conversation has continued to evolve.

"We think it's an important thing for society in general and a constant conversation for us," McLean said. "There are places where we've had success; for example, our fourth grade reading scores, we have closed the gap over time."

There have been areas where the district hasn't seen as much success, including the 10th-grade WASL math scores, which have a large gap in students of different ethnic backgrounds.

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