Tracy Castro-Gill’s workspace at the headquarters of Seattle Public Schools is decorated exactly as you’d expect. An award-winning educator and champion for racial equity, she’s draped her desk and surrounding walls with imagery symbolic of the values she works so hard to impart to young learners: justice, empowerment, and inclusion. Where she works as the district’s Ethnic Studies Program Manager is a nexus of the rich, wonderful diversity that shapes the city and the region.
Tracy only started working in education less than a decade ago, but – after earning her master’s degree from WGU Washington – she quickly made a name for herself in her field. The state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction recently named her the Puget Sound ESD 121 Regional Teacher of the Year.
Tracy was one of nine teachers honored for, among other considerations, strengthening their respective communities and fostering better lives through education. That recognition came less than a year after Tracy received the Golden Apple award from the NAACP.
Among the many factors contributing to her professional success, Tracy acknowledges the value of her experience as a WGU Washington Night Owl.
“WGU provided the freedom for me to learn pedagogy from a racial justice perspective, because there were no professors trying to convince me that I shouldn’t,” said Tracy. “I am grateful WGU uses a model to create a foundation for teaching and learning without an expectation to check your personal experiences at the door.”
Before moving to the district office, Tracy taught social studies at Denny International Middle School in West Seattle – one of the most diverse middle schools in the state. She earned an outstanding reputation teaching an ethnic studies world history course, as well as leading racial equity professional development programs for her colleagues. From there, she says she accepted her new position to have a greater, more lasting impact.
“My goal is to make systemic change and doing that from my classroom proved too challenging.”
Not that Tracy is afraid of a challenge; she just wants to be in the best place to succeed. She says WGU Washington fit that bill, with the flexibility and affordability she needed as a working, adult learner. And the same can be said for her new role in Seattle Public Schools, where the décor surrounding her provides hints of a brighter, more accepting future. And tucked humbly in the corner of her desk: her Teacher of the Year award and Golden Apple, symbols of her hard work and the important difference she’s already making.