Promises are easy to make, but often very hard to keep. The Bellingham Promise, the strategic plan of Bellingham Public Schools, is highly commendable and actualizing it offers up a great challenge. It will truly take the collective effort of our schools and entire community engaged together. Working professionally in the field of community mental health and public health has taught me just how difficult it can be to develop good policy that actually “moves the needle,” as they say.
As the newest member of Bellingham School’s Board of Directors, I find this appealing challenge both formidable and inspiring.
When I applied and interviewed this summer for the open position on the School Board, along with a number of other passionate community members, I was also intrigued by how the Bellingham School Board governs the district and itself.
The School Board focuses on The Bellingham Promise outcomes that our community expects for its students and graduates, and the Board holds the superintendent accountable for achieving the desired results. This aligns well with my firm belief in having a strong and clearly stated mission that is regularly held up for all of the organization to see and follow:
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“We collectively commit that our students are cared for and respected, and that they will graduate from our schools prepared for success in the global community. Each will be exceptional in his or her own way, with strong character, a passion for learning, and ready for the widest range of educational and vocational options to support a diversity of life choices.”
Bellingham Public Schools Mission Statement
I equally believe in staying out of the staff’s way so they can accomplish their job. I like the way our Board’s approach simplifies everyone’s role, takes out the guesswork, and most importantly, stresses knowing when the needle has moved. The superintendent keeps the Board informed of progress made and the challenges; and as a Board, we closely monitor outcomes and regularly provide feedback.
To help keep The Bellingham Promise a living document that reflects community values, the Board hosts regular meetings to listen and learn from students, parents, business leaders and community groups. Last year, the Board met with high school seniors, senior citizens, our LGBTQA community, parents of special education students, and those whose home language is Spanish, Vietnamese, Russian and Punjabi. In the next year, we plan to meet with, neighborhood association representatives, club sports organizers, recent graduates and faith-based community leaders.
Another cornerstone to making The Bellingham Promise a reality is a strong emphasis on early childhood education. Good science has shown us that “early trumps later and prevention trumps remediation.” The district’s pre-kindergarten Promise K program is geared to do exactly that. If you haven’t already, please go view the Promise K video on the Bellingham Schools website at bellinghamschools.org.
I am excited to join an experienced group of Board members: Kelly Bashaw, Camille Diaz Hackler, Dr. Ken Gass and Dr. Steve Smith. It’s evident that they care deeply about all of our kids and families. The desired outcomes that have come from their work with our community make a bold statement that our school system will measure itself according to how it is serving the whole child – academics, world-mindedness; and the social, emotional and behavioral health of every child.
This approach has enormous benefits for the overall well-being of our community. It deeply resonates with me having spent my career developing and providing mental health care.
I am certain that education is the solution to many, if not most, of our social, health and economic struggles. The public school model ensures that everyone has access to a quality education; The Bellingham Promise strives to take that to an exceptional level—way more than test scores. It is a tremendous honor to serve our community on this school board, to learn, and be part of the effort. Please join me in doing everything we can to keep the promise.