This is the third and final seg­ment of a series of posts cov­er­ing my recent con­ver­sa­tion with Belle­vue City Coun­cil can­di­date John Stokes. John and I are con­nect­ed through our edu­ca­tion advo­ca­cy work and I know him to be a well-informed and ded­i­cat­ed advo­cate for children.

In part one of our con­ver­sa­tion, post­ed last week, we dis­cussed John’s civic back­ground and vision. Part two con­tin­ued the series with a dis­cus­sion of light rail and city growth. Today, we will talk about edu­ca­tion, an area that John has been sig­nif­i­cant­ly involved in since he moved to Belle­vue twen­ty years ago, dur­ing which time Belle­vue schools have become some of our nation’s best.

From John’s cam­paign website:

As an edu­ca­tion advo­cate dur­ing the past 20 years, John has helped on count­less school levy and bond cam­paigns, spent 9 years as a trustee on the Belle­vue Schools Foun­da­tion, and served as chair of the Bridg­ing the Achieve­ment Gap Com­mit­tee. He cur­rent­ly serves on the Belle­vue School District’s fis­cal advi­so­ry com­mit­tee, and has been involved with schools as a site facil­i­ta­tor and a PTA leader. John was hon­ored by the Wash­ing­ton State Par­ent Teacher Asso­ci­a­tion as its “Out­stand­ing Advo­cate” for 2009.

Here are some con­ver­sa­tion highlights:

KATHLEEN: When I was online today, I noticed that three of Bellevue’s high schools were ranked by U.S. News and World Reports in the top 100 high schools in the coun­try. Since you’ve been so involved in the school com­mu­ni­ty, what do you attribute this suc­cess to, and what kind of role have you played in strength­en­ing Bellevue’s school system?

JOHN: Well, I think that when we came here twen­ty years ago, it was a pret­ty good sys­tem. It was decen­tral­ized and there was a lot of vari­ance from school to school about what was taught and what the achieve­ments were, and I think that changed when Mike Riley came in as superintendent.

I met Mike right away and I worked with Mike all the time he was there, and the Belle­vue School Foun­da­tion also worked very close­ly with him. Mike put in two con­cepts that were very impor­tant. One was that all kids can achieve at a high lev­el.  And sec­ond­ly, high stan­dards were cru­cial to that achieve­ment. In oth­er words, if you believe that kids can achieve at a high lev­el and put in high lev­el pro­grams, you have a for­mu­la that leads to high achieve­ment. The mot­to for the Belle­vue Schools Foun­da­tion has been “high expec­ta­tions lead to high achievement.”

It also means you have to do a lot of analy­sis, and the foun­da­tion and the school dis­trict spent funds to get a bet­ter han­dle on the depth and breadth of the cur­ricu­lum and pro­gram delivery.

Belle­vue at this time had fair­ly high and uni­form fam­i­ly expec­ta­tions for its students.

KATHLEEN: High­ly aca­d­e­m­ic families?

JOHN: Right, and, the good thing is that even though Belle­vue has changed and now has a minor­i­ty-major­i­ty pop­u­la­tion, and the schools are larg­er and there are more Eng­lish as a sec­ond lan­guage kids than in Seat­tle, plus a much high­er per­cent­age of free and reduced lunch recip­i­ents in a num­ber of schools, it still has achieved, because at the same time, we were work­ing at the foun­da­tion on the Bridg­ing the Achieve­ment Gap com­mit­tee. We were work­ing with schools in low income areas to help kids, par­tic­u­lar­ly kids who come into school with­out being able to read, to be suc­cess­ful, and then we worked with the city.

The city’s involve­ment in the schools, with the wrap around pro­gram particularly…

KATHLEEN: So, the city’s been a cru­cial part­ner in main­tain­ing the excellence?

JOHN: Yes, so that’s one of the rea­sons that I am very inter­est­ed in this, because we’ve been work­ing on this for some time. The city, with the wrap around pro­gram, has worked in a num­ber of the schools to help with­in the com­mu­ni­ty pro­vide ser­vices for kids and fam­i­lies so that kids are ready to learn. And that has grown into a pro­gram called East­side Path­ways. It’s a col­lec­tive impact group that Bill Hen­nings­gaard and I, and Rox­anne Shep­ard start­ed, and it’s grown now to hun­dreds of peo­ple work­ing with us. The school dis­trict has endorsed it. City staff is work­ing on it. We have ser­vice providers like the Unit­ed Way, Youth East­side Ser­vices, Child Care Resources, and Kinder Care, dif­fer­ent lev­els all work­ing togeth­er. So, this is very sup­port­ive of the schools and of high academics.

But what has been inter­est­ing to see is that Sam­mamish High School, which is still not at the same lev­el of scor­ing and aca­d­e­mics as Belle­vue High and New­port High School, has improved, and Inter­lake High School which was strug­gling, has come up dra­mat­i­cal­ly, and again it’s because of pro­vid­ing a lot more incen­tives for teach­ers. The school dis­trict end­ed up with the high­est per­cent­age of Nation­al Board Cer­ti­fied teach­ers because of a direct pol­i­cy by Mike Riley and the foundation.

Cur­rent­ly, Dr. Cud­eiro [the Belle­vue School Dis­trict super­in­ten­dent] has worked on dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed instruc­tion to bridge the achieve­ment gap so that all kids will achieve, which ends up with a high­er per­cent­age of kids grad­u­at­ing from high school and scor­ing very high­ly on tests .

So I think it’s been a com­mu­ni­ty effort and a very com­bined effort to try to pro­vide the best for stu­dents and know­ing that if you pro­vide the best, they will rise to the challenge.

KATHLEEN: Thank you John.

JOHN: It was good talk­ing with you Kathleen.

Adjacent posts