ELECTION 2013: John Blethen propose more public input, attention to Bellingham neighborhoods schools

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 5, 2013 

Our Bellingham Public Schools are vital components of our community and we need to ensure that they continue on into the future. If we believe that it "takes a village" to raise our children, then we need to make sure that schools are a part of that village. Schools should be social centers and the heart of our diverse neighborhoods. Neighborhood schools allow family engagement to happen naturally, as families are more likely to stop by, interact and have meaningful conversations with staff if they can walk and ride bikes to their nearby school. It is in those informal settings that some of the most valuable communication occurs.

While physical facilities are important, good teaching happens when students, teachers, parents and the community work together in a unified team. All kids need to be supported, whether they are college bound or go on to pursue other opportunities.

With increased academic expectations and the national adoption of the Common Core State Standards, children need to have strong math, reading, writing and science skills for future success. Additional instructional time must be balanced with social and emotional components of school to ensure that we graduate well-rounded kids who are going to be lifelong learners.

Research supports that small neighborhood schools are more effective academically and socially, especially for children living in low-income households, and encourage parent involvement. Neighborhood schools are essential for community building. It is imperative that the Bellingham School District aligns their school facilities planning process with the city of Bellingham to be in step with the Bellingham Comprehensive Plan, with public schools retained and new neighborhood schools located consistent with the city's commitment to progressive urban smart-growth principles.

I own and operate New Whatcom Interiors, a successful cabinetmaking business started in 1979, and have a bachelor of arts from Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and a master's degree in industrial technology from WWU. I have been an active voice in local community issues for over 30 years, serving on the park board, working on Greenways levies, Waterfront Futures Group, Waterfront Advisory Group, and numerous community volunteer activities. I was one of the founders of the Bellingham Community Food Co-op. I have been honored to win the William Dietrich Award, Environmental Hero award from ReSources, and was listed as the Bellingham Business Journal's Mover and Shaker for 2008. I have four daughters; two are local elementary school teachers, and seven grandkids.

Since beginning my campaign, I have received overwhelming support from a community frustrated with a school district that is out of touch with neighborhood goals, with the Bellingham Comprehensive Plan and principles of smart growth. I intend to add to the culture of the Bellingham School District a voice that not only produces schools that deliver best practices in education, but schools that reflect our community goals. I want to make school board meetings more transparent, including producing more comprehensive meeting minutes, broadcasting meetings to television, encourage more public education about school board actions, and implement more public participation throughout decision-making processes.

The most important lesson that I have learned in the 30 years that I have been in business is how the experience that business owners can bring to transform our community into a more vibrant place. A business can help build local community, and that a business can respond to the larger context that it's living in - and that it doesn't strictly have to be about money. We need to work closely with our neighborhoods, city planners, and businesses in partnership to locate and support our schools. I feel that I have a responsibility to the larger community - and it's not just about the bottom line.

I pledge that I will work hard in a transparent fashion to develop and implement policies to support a school district that promotes excellence in education. Our public schools have the capability of providing great education for everybody, only because and only when, they are created by everybody.

I am prepared to step up and bring the changes to leadership of the Bellingham School District that will serve our community better and would be happy to be your school board member. Vote for John Blethen, director position No. 4, johnblethen.org.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Blethen is one of three candidates running for the four-year term for Bellingham School director postion 4. The top two candidates in the Aug. 6 primary advance to the Nov. 4 general election.

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