A Letter to the Bellevue School District Community – May 2021
Excerpts and Sentiments from May 18, 2021 Board of Directors Meeting
Dear Members of the Bellevue School District Community –
We are grateful for your support and patience this past year. As we turn to a new chapter in Bellevue School District’s journey, we do so with some thoughts about the opportunity of this moment.
Board Service. The Board is elected by the residents of Bellevue. We are proud to have this honor, and we respect the weight of the responsibility it carries. We are public officials elected by the residents of Bellevue, but we are not paid. We do this work because we believe in its value for our students and our community. To make serving on the Board more attractive to and possible for others, we added Policy 1733 to enable a small stipend for future Board members.
Board Elections This week is the election filing period, and two seats on our Board will be decided again by voters: Districts 3 and 5. It is our hope that this coming year will require fewer meetings and hours than this past year. We encourage members of the community to consider the honor and opportunity to serve one’s community by serving on the Bellevue School Board. Every Board director stands ready to answer questions potential candidates may have about what Board service entails. Interested members of our community are welcome to contact Board members with any questions.
Our Board meetings. The focus of our public Board meetings is, as necessitated by our obligations as elected officials, to conduct the Board’s business. It is not, however, the only place we engage with members of our community. We hold community meetings, visit our schools, attend the meetings of liaison groups, hold 1:1 coffees and calls, and often reply to individual emails and inquiries from constituents. We also hold Board workshops that are open to the public. These opportunities allow us to listen and learn from our stakeholders, elevating their concerns and advocating for their needs, which supports our work to make our District more responsive and equitable. These settings also allow for more flexibility in our agenda and have often served as the means through which we’ve formed deeper relationships with many of our community members and stakeholders.
Who we are. We were elected by the residents of Bellevue to represent our community. Our life experiences vary. Our Board includes members who were not born in the U.S., who have a foreign-born spouse or a spouse who is the first in his family to go to college; Board directors who grew up in low-income housing and experienced poverty, who speak multiple languages, who identify as persons of color or are multi-racial, or who have bi-racial children. All our children have attended or are still attending Bellevue Schools, with the oldest having graduated college and the youngest still in preschool. We have volunteered in our schools, as tutors, and on committees, as advocates for children with special needs, whether for our own children or those of a neighbor or friend. We have board directors who have been teachers, who are the children of educators and have deep roots in education. And, as we have discussed in our workshops and community engagement sessions, each of us had different experiences in our upbringing and in our individual paths to serving on the school board. What we share, is a belief that education can change a child’s life and destiny and that we have an obligation to ensure that needs of each and every student in our District are met and that we help them reach their potential.
Communications from the District vs. Board members. This past year required more communications and messages than any in our District’s history. We have been asked if the Board reviews and approves messages that come from the District, including the Superintendent. The answer is, no, we do not. Communications from the Superintendent, District departments, Principals, and schools are managed or coordinated directly by the District. A letter from the Superintendent is his or her letter. A letter from a Principal is his or her letter. Having said that, we have a relevant governance and oversight role in this regard, and we believe our District could have done better, both in the cadence, substance, and at times in the tone of District communications. To that end, one of the most crucial changes in our District recently has been reimagining and reworking the Communications Department. The team has been restructured, and interviews for a newly created leadership position (“Chief Communications and Engagement Officer”) are literally occurring right now. It is our goal to ensure that communications from the District – from all levels – meet the needs of our community stakeholders and align with our values.
Our next Superintendent. With the selection of an Interim Superintendent, we begin the work to carry our District forward in two important ways. We work to ensure that our 2021-2022 school year meets the needs and expectations of our community. In parallel, we begin the process of a search for our next Superintendent, through a process that involves our entire community. As in years past, our process will include community question and answer sessions with the candidates, smaller stakeholder group sessions, and surveys which allow any community member to provide input.
Looking Forward. Our students and parents have shown resilience in uncertain and extremely difficult times, with many suffering deeply challenging and painful personal and family consequences. Our educators have worked extended hours for more than a year, giving more, professionally and personally, in unprecedented times. Educators, along with our staff, have been strained to capacity. We recognize these costs and sacrifices. We are focused on recovering after the most challenging year in our school District’s nearly 80-year history. This means considering the needs of our students, teachers, and staff, across all needs and life experiences. The challenges and urgency to get things back are enormous, but so too is the opportunity to turn a new chapter.
We look to the end of this year with the hope of finishing positively. We look to the summer as an opportunity for students who need or want more support, academically or socially, to receive it. We look to the fall with the full commitment to return to in-person learning for every student who desires it. We know we can rise to the occasion to meet the needs of our students. We invite all members of our community to join us.