NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

A conversation with John Stokes, Part 3: The Belleuve community supports its schools by working together

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.

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