Executive Summary Leadership Profile
This report presents the findings of the Leadership Assessment conducted by Human Capital Enterprises in June 2022 for the position of Superintendent of the Bellevue School District. The data contained herein were obtained from input received by Human Capital Enterprises consultants Hank Harris, Steve Webb, and Hector Garcia when they conducted individual interviews and focus groups in June, 2022 – as well as from two other important sources of inputs: the results of the online survey completed by stakeholders in June, July, and August; and the transcripts from the Board’s Listening Sessions conducted in May and June of this year. The survey, interviews, focus group meetings, and Listening Sessions were highly consequential in allowing the consultants to gather input to assist the Board in determining the primary characteristics desired in the new superintendent as well as the strengths of the district and some of the challenges that it faces now and in the coming years.
Scroll down to read about participation, strengths of the Bellevue School District, and challenges for the new superintendent.
In all, seven hundred fifty-two (752) external and internal stakeholders participated in our project. Of these, one hundred fifty-one (151) individuals served in Focus Groups, five hundred thirty (530) individuals participated in the online survey and seventy-one (71) engaged in Listening Sessions with the Board. The numbers of participants, by stakeholder group are listed below:
Number Involved1 in Focus Group/Interviews
- 5 School Board Members
- 44 Administrators, Supervisors, and Non-Represented Staff
- 188 Certified Staff and Classified Staff
- 421 Parents and Community Members
- 88 Students
- 6 Online survey respondents who elected not to identify self-identify by role
- 752 Total Participants
1 In actuality, we should assume that some of the Focus Group attendees also participated in the online survey and Listening Sessions; thus, the total number of participants is approximated and can be expected to be less than this sum.
We would like to thank all the participants who completed the online survey, and/or attended interviews, focus groups meetings and listening sessions. We would also like to say a special thank you to the Board Office staff and the Communications Department for their great assistance with coordination and logistics. We are deeply appreciative for their coordination and commitment to the important work that takes place at Bellevue School District every day and we are excited to help the Board find the next extraordinary leader for the schools of Bellevue.
It is important to emphasize that the delineations below are not a scientific sampling, nor should they necessarily be viewed as representing a majority opinion. Items are included if, in the consultants’ judgment, they warranted the Board’s attention, and are listed in order of prominence.
Strengths of the Bellevue School District
The overwhelming sense of pride in Bellevue School District is not only evident in BSD’s tradition of academic excellence, but most importantly in the comments from current stakeholders from throughout the district. Bellevue School District stakeholders regularly cite the district’s academic programs and opportunities as a core sense of community pride. Parents routinely rave about the amazing education that exists in Bellevue schools. While most comprehensive school districts struggle to find their true identity or focus, Bellevue sees itself as a leader in student achievement with a determination to meet the needs of every child and to help each child reach her or his greatest potential.
Despite whatever challenges may exist, and we will discuss some of those later, it’s important to recognize that most parents and students tend to have a highly favorable impression of their schools and the student experience within it. And when Seattle-area families consider multiple options in which to educate their children, many intentionally select the Bellevue Schools. This is a true destination district and the sense of excitement and possibility in Bellevue is a significant reason why the district attracts such interest and acclaim.
The nine most pronounced strengths and challenges are described below.
I. A long standing tradition of academic excellence.
Bellevue’s citizens believe their students receive one of the best public educations available in the United States, if not beyond. Large numbers of students are accepted each year into some of the nation’s most competitive schools; and the trophies, awards, prizes, and scholarships brought home by many individuals and groups of students across many areas of the curriculum and co-curriculum, are a source of extraordinary civic pride. Historically Bellevue School District’s national rankings have been, to many stakeholders, proof that this is a top-tier district.2
Every year Bellevue students win national recognition and take home gold medals and championship rings in a mind-boggling variety of pursuits. This year’s national championship rocketry team hails from Bellevue. One of five student winners in the national poetry contest comes from Bellevue. The Bellevue High School Jazz Ensemble won a national jazz trophy in Kansas City along with individual trophies for two of their instrumentalists. This is just a partial list from the current year, which also includes several state individual and team championships at a state and regional level.
We hear from staff who are in awe of what their students accomplish, and one stated, “Our kids are truly amazing. Did we actually teach them to be, or did they come to us that way?” That is a question that resonates with many stakeholders, as Bellevue is a well-educated, highly motivated community. In this regard, parents often have a very pro-education mindset and the resources available to supplement an already-excellent public school education with additional curricular and co- curricular opportunities for their children, paid at their own expense – which begs the question above. Notwithstanding this, the many accomplishments of so many Bellevue students is well-known and admired throughout and beyond the school district boundaries.
Staff attain at high levels too, as evidenced by the fact that over four hundred Bellevue teachers have received national board-certification. This augments a shared belief that Bellevue is a place where people work hard, and the combination of grit and resources provides extraordinary opportunities to explore, experience, and achieve.
2 It is also true that there are many stakeholders who are not quite as convinced that these national rankings are true indicators of the schools’ quality.
II. Bellevue’s treasured diversity, and its honored place in its schools.
Bellevue is a true cosmopolis, and stakeholders celebrate this – joyfully. Bellevue’s citizenry is dynamically diverse, and the list of countries where Bellevue’s students are born reads like an atlas of the world. Over one hundred languages can be heard spoken in school hallways and in the parks and on the streets of Bellevue and citizens marvel at this and consider themselves lucky to live in such an exciting and vibrant international city.
Within the school walls in Bellevue, students typically express feeling welcomed and respected for who they are. While Bellevue is not immune to the issues of discrimination, racism, and hatred that permeate contemporary American society – there tends to be a strong belief that such acts are handled appropriately and mitigated quickly.
In such a diverse and forward-thinking city, it is not surprising that we find in Bellevue a strong commitment to the values of equity, and to dismantling structures that marginalize certain groups of students. This is very much a work in progress as we’ll discuss below, but there is a pervasive belief that the district is committed to doing this work well, and right. The district’s impressive Strategic Plan as well as its forward-thinking Equity and Accountability policy are but two pieces of evidence that stakeholders offer as an example to this point. The work of ensuring equitable education to all, with a particular focus on serving students and families who have been historically ill-served by public education, is a dominant theme in the school district – and for a majority of stakeholders we engaged with, something that must be continued and accelerated.
III. Outstanding offerings and exciting programming.
Repeatedly, staff, students, administrators, and parents commented on the plethora of programs and opportunities that are available in BSD. Bellevue is seen as innovative and progressive in how it educates its students. Community members lauded the exciting opportunities in academics, career and technical education (CTE), and co-curriculars. The Spanish Immersion and Mandarin Dual-Language programs are called out frequently as great examples of Bellevue’s innovation. Big Picture, International School and the Digital Discovery Online School are also highly acclaimed.
Many stakeholders pointed to the district’s rich STEM programming including a computer science program centering on equity, opportunity and choice and the fact that students at Title 1 elementary schools attend high quality, culturally responsive computer science lessons each week.
With respect to the performing arts, Bellevue offers opportunities that other districts can only envy. BSD offers entry, intermediate, and advanced level choir, band, and orchestra at all middle schools. Instrumental music is accessible to any middle school student who is interested at any ability level. Almost one-third of all middle school students take a music class every year, and dozens of Bellevue middle school students qualify for the Junior All-State Competition every year in Band and Orchestra. It’s not a surprise that by the time Bellevue’s musicians are in high school, they are competitive on a national level.
Some programs draw both strong accolades and also expressions of concern. Special Education services, for example, was hailed by many parents for the quality of service it provides, and for the caliber of the tremendously dedicated teachers and paraprofessionals who support their child’s educational journey. A large number of stakeholders spoke to the inclusivity that their children (or their students or classmates) enjoy. Conversely, we heard from staff who felt that the leadership turnover in Special Education has had an adverse effect on the programmatic quality, and we heard from some families who felt abandoned by the Special Education department and helpless to get the programming they feel their children merit.
Similarly, although also not without its critics, we heard many accolades about the district’s gifted education (Advanced Learning, or AL) program in terms of program quality, caliber of staff, flexibility, and innovation of programming. AL in Bellevue has evolved in positive and more inclusive ways over the last decade, and while there appears to be more work to be done on the horizon, those whose children participate in the program tend to give it high marks.
Finally, as a comprehensive school district which is focused on every child, the Advanced Placement (AP) courses were often mentioned as exemplary in terms of courses offered and student performance. AP was routinely called out for its transformation over the last decade-and-a-half into a program with barrierless entry. Educating such a large number of diverse students who enroll in AP with no required entry courses or exams, and who nonetheless perform admirably, is quite a feat — and a genuine source of district pride. “We have no gatekeepers,” a teacher announced with delight.
IV. Commitment to Socio-Emotional Learning and Mental Health.
The Bellevue School District has received a lot of praise for its social emotional learning (SEL) initiatives and mental health supports for students. Many see Bellevue as far ahead of its peers in this regard. Bellevue has been a national leader in the implementation of social emotional learning curriculum and universal learning activities. The District has screening measures in place for many years to guide instruction and inform individual student support. Social emotional learning is a key component of professional learning for teachers to ensure that SEL is integrated wholistically.
In recent years, the district has committed to implementation of Mental Health Assistance Teams at all levels that includes screening for students, and targeted interventions to those students in need. There has also been an implementation of a cohesive suicide prevention curriculum. As you’ll read later, there is certainly still a strong desire for increased services and programming in the area of SEL and Mental Health.
V. Highly-Regarded Staff who are committed to Bellevue, and a workplace which supports them.
Throughout our engagement, teachers were widely cited for their amazing work with students, and were routinely characterized as excellent, caring, and going above and beyond. And accolades were not limited to teachers. So many individuals praised the terrific administrators and support staff who are working in schools throughout the district.
Staff are also seen as highly professional, and a credit to their profession. There are a lot of stakeholders who believe that educators in Bellevue are the best in the state, or beyond. One parent put it succinctly, stating Bellevue teachers are “highly knowledgeable, world class educators, passionate about teaching their subjects.”
Teachers frequently note that the autonomy and flexibility they are given allows them to be more creative and innovative with their students – and we can attest that this is not something we often hear in school districts. In general they appreciate that they are given a freedom to think “outside of the box” and that they feel supported to try new things with their classes. They feel strongly about the collaborative environment fostered in their school and feel that they are supported through rich professional development opportunities. They also value the Instruction, Technology, and Curriculum Leaders who are deployed at each school, and the Instructional Mentors who support novice teachers.
VI. Highly Supportive Parent and Business Community.
Parents have consistently passed bonds and levies over the last twenty years including a $675 million capital bond in 2020. The Bellevue Schools Foundation is also an extraordinary contributor, and has already committed to approximately $800,000 in support for various programs for the upcoming academic year.
VII. Enviable Facilities.
A stakeholder who moved to Bellevue from elsewhere described the schools as “gorgeous.” We learned that since the passage of the 2002 bond measure, BSD has completely demolished and rebuilt 17 of the 18 elementary schools, and has demolished and rebuilt all five middle schools, and all four high schools have been rebuilt and expanded. We learned that all buildings are considered to be in high quality condition as evidenced by the OSPI annual Condition of District Building Assessment completed each spring, and that a majority of district buildings meet or exceed the requirements for energy use in the Washington State Clean Buildings Act requirements going into effect beginning in 2026.
School safety is of course a concern for stakeholders everywhere, and in BSD safety and security is a clear priority. The completion of physical security enhancements such as security vestibules and security bollards; installation of surveillance cameras; electronic visitor management system, and life-safety equipment (such as bleeding control kits and updated AEDs) has contributed to a belief that students and staff are significantly safer in Bellevue than they might be elsewhere.
VIII. Student Voice.
There is a fierce respect among adult stakeholders, particular staff, that the voice of the student matters enormously – and is heard – in Bellevue. Students we spoke with fully agree with the first half of that sentiment, and largely agree with the second. And even where they see room for growth, there is also a recognition that Bellevue is a special place in this regard in its deep appreciation for the role students should have not only in their own education, but in the management of the educational enterprise.
IX. Outstanding Access to Technology.
Every Bellevue student from grade 3 onward has a laptop; and all students K-2 are provided a tablet. Every teacher is issued a laptop and has access to a library of available software programs to install. All schools and classrooms are connected via a high speed fiber option network, and standard classroom setups include interactive displays, audio enhancement systems, and document cameras.
Challenges for the New Superintendent
No school district is without its challenges, and Bellevue is no exception. There are certainly challenges and opportunities that exist in the organization right now, and will likely still require attention from the new superintendent when they join the district in the Summer of 2023.
I. Organizational Culture 1: Leadership Churn and Executive Fatigue
Bellevue has suffered from superintendent turnover in recent years, and many of the district stakeholders perceive an unhealthy dynamic among school board, superintendent, and a vocal minority of parents who circumvent the “chain of command” wielding disproportionate influence in district decision making. Continual turnover in leadership causes harm to any organization.
There is less turnover at the senior level; in fact, many of the district’s senior staff are long-time public servants in the district, and many of them are called out as being leaders of exceptional quality. However there is a fatigue issue that seems to be pervasive in the district office and a morale issue that appears to be pervasive at the level of principal. At the staff level we also see issues of morale, and a district climate survey during the pandemic indicated that only a bit more than one-third of staff feels valued by the district. Some of this can be attributed to the challenges of the pandemic and the post-pandemic recovery, but it appears to us to go deeper, and speaks to an organizational culture piece within the district – from board to senior staff to principals, and from district staff to school staff – that needs to be explored and addressed.
II. Most stakeholders expect a continued, tenacious focus on equity and demand action. Some do not.
In our engagement, we note that staff, parents, and students alike strongly identified the need to fearlessly persist with the district’s equity initiatives. While a vocal minority of stakeholders expressed their desire that the district focus “more on academics and less on politics”, a greater number recognize and share a sense of urgency about moving the equity work forward. In our surveys, we also saw stakeholders insisting that elements of diversity, equity and inclusion be among the most important components to focus on in this superintendent search. Some stakeholders stated that the equity work is being inconsistently implemented across the district and seems dependent upon the skills and cultural competence of individual building administrators and staff. Staff and students expressed some concern that the district’s equity efforts have slowed or stalled; and there is a powerful force wanting and expecting the board and next superintendent to ensure that the district fully implement actions that will fulfill the commitments outlined in Policy 0130 – Equity and Accountability. A number of staff members and stakeholders noted that real disparities continue to exist across the district, citing examples which range from inequitable opportunities due to school boundaries, to program placements, to student learning support systems including Advanced Learning – and many stakeholders lament the fact that, despite the district’s spoken commitment to the work of equity, improvement in this regard has for years remained elusive. There is also a perception that funding and enrichment opportunities seem highly correlated to the affluence of a given school.
Successfully shepherding the district through the vitally important equity challenges that await will almost certainly be among the most profound and complex bodies of work that your new leader will face – beginning on day one and continuing in the months and years that follow.
III. Organizational Culture 2: Need for bridge-building.
We heard quite a bit of talk about rifts, and a need for bridge-building, sometimes with heavy detail and sometimes without specifics. Notions of “trust-building” and “healing” were often heard, we heard this in many different forms: from principals who feel as though are not always trusted by the central office; from parents who perceive that the district makes promises that they don’t always keep, or who feel that the district solicits input but doesn’t act upon it; from central office leaders and staff who feel that a lack of trust by the board stymies their ability to perform at their highest level; from teachers who feel that their voices aren’t valued in decision-making. There were also many times, particularly in the online survey, where stakeholders –staff and parents in particular– used such terms as “lack of trust” or “broken trust” although without adding specific detail.
IV. Declining Enrollment and Budget Impacts.
Similar to most districts in Washington, Bellevue’s student enrollment declined during the pandemic. Some families have chosen not to return post- pandemic. Since approximately 80% of school district general fund revenue is generated by enrollment, many districts, including Bellevue, are facing budget shortfalls in the near term. Additionally, ESSER funding (Federal pandemic aid) will sunset in 2024 while the needs of students post-pandemic continue to be a significant challenge.
These factors have created a funding challenge for Bellevue. District leadership expressed significant concerns with staffing impacts on culture and climate and program/school equity. Some stakeholders fear that Bellevue will need to tackle the magnitude of the budget challenge by wrestling with painful decisions regarding facility consolidation and capital plans. Others are hopeful that setting a strategic vision and plan providing enriched program offerings, including robust remote learning options, could attract families back to Bellevue School District, ameliorating the magnitude of the budget shortfall.
V. Prioritizing the non-academic needs of students.
Student stress is high in Bellevue, and students want more mental health specialists and supports. They acknowledge that many of their peers – or they, themselves – are struggling with depression along with uncomfortably high academic expectations that may originate at home and/or school. Some report feeling stressed about homework workload and the performance expectations to excel at school. Although newly implemented SEL programming was listed as a strength of the district, there is almost universal acknowledgement that social, emotional well- being of students and staff are of upmost importance in the post-pandemic context and there is significantly more need than available resource.
VI. Challenge and Opportunity with Labor Partners.
Twice in recent memory, Bellevue Education Association (BEA) has engaged in work stoppages: a nine-day strike in 2008 and a four-day labor action in 2021 during the pandemic. According to stakeholders, the district would be well-served if relations between BEA and BSD were more harmonious.
BEA leaders expressed a commitment to collaborative interest-based bargaining and improved labor relations through labor management structures. However, labor leaders also expressed frustration with a perception of not being listened to or consulted, particularly related to pandemic-related working conditions and re- opening schools for in-person learning.
There are multiple narratives here, which add to the complexity. A counternarrative shared by many staff reads that BEA wields significant influence over the management of schools, and creates unnecessary obstacles for leaders, particularly principals, to do their best work. Additionally, court action taken by BSD for injunctive relief in January of 2021 further impacted labor management relations. It is not in too much dispute that labor-management relations were further injured as a result of the pandemic related conflict. As such, post-pandemic “healing” and “rebuilding” relationships were identified as a central challenge for the next Superintendent. The very recent ratification of the BEA labor agreement by 87% of the membership bodes well for positive relationships moving forward.
VII. Diversifying the Workforce.
Many stakeholders passionately speak to the need to diversify the workforce so that it is reflective of the students and families served. While affinity groups are helpful and are viewed favorably, many stakeholders described the challenge specifically in terms of retaining BIPOC educators in BSD. Also, in addition to increasing the racial, ethnic, and linguistic diversity of the Bellevue teaching staff, many stakeholders expressed interest in diversifying the administrative ranks.
Those individuals who have chosen to leave BSD recently include some very well- respected educators of color, and that has raised some alarms. We have also learned that there have recently been some positive inroads with respect to hiring and retention data, and this is a promising development.
VIII. Organizational Culture 3: Internal Board Dynamic
Stakeholders report that there has been disharmony on the school board for several years now. Conflict and tension among board members, or directed at superintendents and senior staff, has been observed and reported. While this is hardly unique to Bellevue, it is curious to us, because we most often see such disharmony on boards where there are ideological splits, and that is not the case in Bellevue. Rather, the collective Board members’ expressed ideologies appear to be quite well-aligned. And so the divide is not ideological, but is something else. The Board has also a history of being viewed as a micromanaging body that consumes unnecessarily large amounts of staff time.
Board Members must understand that their role should focus on strategic direction, governance, budget, and hiring and evaluating the Superintendent. Day-to-day management of the district is not the purview of the Board, and when Board Members fail to honor that distinction, it hampers the ability of a superintendent – and their staff– to be successful. A strong, experienced executive – which is exactly the kind of leader that a high-achieving community like Bellevue demands – is not going to want to work in an environment where this dynamic impedes their ability to execute, because that is what an executive does.
Bellevue is most fortunate in that the current School Board is comprised of five remarkable, highly educated and highly intelligent individuals who are each passionate about bringing Bellevue to the next level. And so the Board must capitalize on its strengths and commit to solving its ills, because the tenor of the discourse does reverberate in the organization. A strong vibrant Board that operates efficaciously would be a significant value-add to the district.
IX. Academic and Programmatic Growth.
With all the accolades regarding Bellevue’s educators and student learning outcomes, there is a sense that systems of academic support could be improved. Different stakeholders spoke to different areas of the academic program, but we’ll call out a few of the more salient ones here:
- Sustaining, growing, and expanding Dual Language programs.
- Additional resources for school-based Multi-Tiered Systems of Supports (MTSS).
- Examining AL and programs of choice to ensure that all students, regardless of background and zip code, have equitable access across the district.
- Providing more robust and engaging on-line or hybrid learning options for students and families.
Human Capital Enterprises
“BSD has good band programs, but please have barbeque sauce and honey mustard every day for lunch that would be awesome.”