The new year is upon us. I would first take a personal moment to express my deep appreciation for the recent support and comfort given to me by so many people. As an interim and an “outsider,” it has been a wonderful display of the heart that is Bellevue and the Bellevue School District. Thank you.
The arrival of 2023 marks a significant period for the Bellevue schools and community. In particular, January will mark the selection of a new Bellevue School Superintendent and an exciting new era for the school district. Thanks to the early process by the Board of Directors, we will have the opportunity to spend the next five months working in transition with that new leader. This transition time permits them to begin their new role on July 1, having been part of the key decision-making this spring. In our case, the spring of 2023 will be packed with significance and significant decisions for BSD.
Among those issues will be the need to tackle declining enrollment and thereby stabilize the district for the next decade. The last several years, while masked by a pandemic, laid bare a new reality of sharply declining birth rates, staggering increases in home prices, and continuing urbanization of Bellevue. Our school district, which has earned immense praise for a twenty-year program of capital construction resulting in outstanding school facilities, now faces a future that will serve fewer students. Plans approved five years ago must now be rethought. It would be poor business for the district to continue adding facilities while classroom utilization drops.
This spring, we will be unveiling a variety of scenarios to achieve consolidations in elementary schools. It will be challenging and uncomfortable, but absolutely essential to the long-term health of the school district. We will find stability, innovation, and progress while avoiding overbuilding and costly underutilization. Declining enrollment can be managed effectively to continue vibrant programs and outstanding achievement. Likewise, Bellevue can continue to draw upon its’ wonderful staff and adjust staffing through attrition rather than “layoffs .”Consolidation of facilities also opens the door to utilize modern, appropriate vacated schools to meet the needs of schools awaiting replacement facilities – namely Big Picture School, Jing Mei, and International School – all of which have been promised adequate replacement buildings in lieu of the current inadequate facilities.
Safety and Security
This 2023 spring also provides the occasion to take the next step in consideration of the issue of “SROs.” The past year has provided time and opportunity to analyze the prior suspension of the SRO program and consider the needs and options available to the school district. Recent threats have continued to highlight the need for the school district and police department to provide essential safety for our children. Likewise, it is evident that concerns about police interactions with students must be addressed for any program to be successful in our schools. Recently, public engagement was sought regarding the proposed replacement of the former SRO program with a new program of Community Engagement Officers. No action will be taken this spring as we analyze the feedback and suggestions for that new program. Clearly, this pause provides an opportunity to partner with the new superintendent to get us to the right outcome to meet the mental health needs and safety concerns of our children and schools.
Innovation and Change
The Bellevue School District may have the greatest prospect to innovate and implement change of any district in the state. As a community, we have the leadership, the resources, and the necessary catalysts to move forward aggressively. The diversity and vibrancy in our community suggests successful school programs for “heritage languages,” space, digital, robotics, and many other areas visible in our future. 2023 is here, and it is time!
Dr. Art Jarvis, Interim Superintendent – Bellevue School District