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.
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.