With a goal of “all voices are heard,” the Bellevue School Board listened to parents about what’s working – and not working – in Bellevue schools at their first community forum held this week.
As approximately 50 parents arrived, they were given random numbers, assigned to a small group that had one board member present. They were encouraged to have a conversation that would lead to feedback for the board, specifically in the areas of governance, student and staff success, student learning, accountability and community engagement.
In one of the groups, about nine parents listed areas the school district had succeeded – art and music in elementary schools, a comfortable transition for home school students, strong leadership and good communication at Chinook Middle School, outstanding facilities and the seven-period school days with a clear curriculum path. Access to technology and computers as well as an emphasis on 21st century skills and rigorous classes were another positive.
But, with the good comes the bad.
Parents wanted a better teacher evaluation system and all teachers aligned to a similar curriculum. Some wanted teachers to enter mid-way grades quicker so that parents could help their students if they weren’t on a good track for quarter grades.
Others mentioned bullying, a lack of daily P.E. in elementary schools and an option for students to learn better time management. Others said communication at a district level could improve, as well as accountability. Nearly all agreed that after-school activities and the “eighth period” would help them educate the whole child.
Chandana Surlu took a specific issue with extra-curriculars a step further.
In a letter she had prepared for the community forum, she said her son’s robotics team needs more support from the district, as do all of the robotics teams in the five comprehensive high schools in Bellevue.
“At Interlake, the beginning of every school year brings a challenge – finding an advisor who is willing to spend the long hours with the club,” Surlu wrote. “The school has accommodated us as much as possible, but it’s a couple of months of handwringing every year.”
Surlu said the club faces a few competitions in the beginning of the school year and has already had to miss one.
With Bellevue’s emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, and the potential to win big scholarships through the FIRST Robotics Competition, Surlu wonders if the district would support a paid coach for the club that commits availability to the teams and is willing to undergo training.
“This is a competitive team, after all,” she said.
At the end of the group discussions, school board members shared what they had learned with all of the attendees, and common themes emerged in communication and a desire to be heard and validated when concerns arose.
School board President Christine Chew said the board would take time at their next school board meeting on Nov. 7 to debrief and discuss the community forum. They will also discuss ways to follow-up with action on some issues as well as answer any questions that came to light.
The next community forums are scheduled for January and March 2018.