More than 40 students, staff, families, and community members joined the board for their second community forum on the evening of Jan. 16.  Among the issues discussed were concerns over ensuring that school environments are safe, welcoming, and supportive of all students; a desire for staff that reflect the diversity of our student body; the need for clarity around several district processes; and the benefit of finding more ways to engage students in the decision-making process.

The forum provided the opportunity for a dialogue between board directors and the community on how we can together create a school district that ensures each and every student is prepared to succeed in college, career, and life.

“This is a good opportunity to listen to other peoples’ experiences and to share a little bit about mine,” said Interlake junior Jesus Antonio Gutierrez-Paniagua, who does a lot of advocacy work at his school.  “I came to get questions answered and to get insight as to what the process is for getting things done.”

As the evening unfolded, participants divided into small groups to discuss what is working well in the district and opportunities for growth.  Each small group discussion was facilitated by a board director, with the support of district staff.  Following the discussions, each table group shared key ideas with the larger group.  Thoughts shared ranged from the desire for a district pool to communication ideas such as having a districtwide student newsletter.

“I really liked it,” said Gutierrez-Paniagua.  “I didn’t get to talk about everything I wanted to talk about, but it was good because I got to hear the perspective of a lot of parents and another student.  I enjoyed having the opportunity to voice my opinion while getting to look at things from a parent perspective.”

Trisha Dey, a senior at Newport High School attended the community forum for the second time this year.

“I think it was very good overall,” said Dey.  “I’ve come to a community forum in the past and I did not feel like my concerns were heard.  This time around it was so amazing.  Everyone at the table was responsive and respectful.  People were willing to get engaged with topics they did not come here to discuss, which I thought was really special.”

When asked why she chose to attend tonight’s forum Dey said, “I came back to advocate for student voice, especially in the way students communicate to the administration and the way it is received.”

Fellow Newport student Jahnvi Madan came to discuss an equity issue at her school.  “I think pads should be provided in all the women’s restrooms at my school and they are not right now,” she said.  “A lot of girls are missing out on their education because of their period.”

Madan provided data to her table to support her observation, including a survey she conducted with 165 respondents in the first four days.  Madan also shared this data with Board President My-Linh Thai and Superintendent Duran.

From here Madan hopes that there is follow-up from administration on issues raised.  “I would really like to see a more tangible explanation of how we can maintain the partnership they have built with us,” she said.

To conclude the evening, Thai addressed the group saying, “This is what advocacy looks like.  I’m asking you to keep us accountable…and I’m asking you to continue this partnership.”

The board will review information shared at both the most recent forum and the forum held in October to identify key issues to be addressed and next steps.  The information provided will also be used to inform planning for future forums, including a third forum to be held in the spring.

Community members who are eager to share their thoughts with district staff and play a role in the decision-making process can also attend the six issue-based community advisory groups that the district launched earlier this year. These groups will focus on topics identified in Dr. Duran’s entry plan as needing further review, including Finance, Safe Schools-Safe Students, Growth & Planning, Wellness, Equity, and Activities & Athletics.

The Bellevue School District acknowledges that we learn, work, live and gather on the Indigenous Land of the Coast Salish peoples, specifically the Duwamish and Snoqualmie Tribes. We thank these caretakers of this land, who have lived and continue to live here, since time immemorial.