Incumbent Francine Wiest and Jane Aras are competing for a spot on the Bellevue School District (BSD) school board. The General Election is Nov. 5.
Wiest was appointed to the board in January 2019 to fill a position vacated by My-Linh Thai. During her near-year long period on the board, she advocated for better math support, more counselors, and stronger family partnerships according to her candidate statement on the King County Auditor’s Office website. She attended Harvard College, Columbia University and the University of Washington.
Aras has taught both special and general education. Her experience in education and health advocacy, data driven approach, and proven ability to collaborate with Bellevue’s diverse community, she said makes her the right person to realize the district’s vision according to her candidate statement on the King County Auditor’s Office website. She attended Gonzaga University and the University of Washington.
How much should the school board support extracurriculars?
Wiest: The school board supports co-curricular and extracurricular activities, recognizing these provide valuable learning, development and engagement opportunities for students. For some students these are among the most memorable or important activities that support their learning, attendance, and success in school. Our department of athletics and activities coordinates and oversees, in conjunction with schools, the wide range of extracurricular activities, and the board provides guidance through policy.
Additionally, co-curricular experiences, such as elementary school field trips that enhance and complement classroom teaching, are critical to bring material to life and provide authentic, experiential, and hands-on opportunities. The board also has a role in directing equitable access and opportunity for students across the district, and I advocated for improving awareness of options and increasing support and participation for all interested students. We also must ensure that extracurriculars are quality experiences and have trained coaches and advisors. As a board director I expect that these role models are provided robust training and held to the standards of our other staff to create a positive experience for students.
Aras: Consistent with the mission statement, the Bellevue School District has made a commitment to affirming and inspiring each and every student to learn and thrive academically, socially and emotionally. Our community believes that participation in extracurricular activities helps our students extend their learning and become inspired. Therefore, the school board should support extracurricular activities.
However, it can be difficult to provide enough school resources to all clubs, sports and other activities. So, the evaluation process is important to determine whether or not an activity should be/should continue to be officially supported. The board’s job is to ensure that a fair and equitable process is in place at each school, which ensures that each activity is in line with school district mission and values and that the resources required justify the value of the activity.
How much should the board be involved in curriculum decisions?
Wiest: The curriculum includes all the components of a course or subject involved in student growth and learning, including the instructional materials. The board authorizes the adoption of basic instructional materials, such as textbooks, after a review by professional staff, with input from a broadly representative committee. Educators have the flexibility and responsibility to tailor instruction to their students’ needs. As one of the school directors specifically charged with reviewing student instruction, I have supported expanding the categories of instructional materials to create a more nimble process that allows for a variety of additional materials to enrich the curriculum. For example, rather than relying on one novel for a unit, teachers and students will be able to choose from among multiple relevant books that illustrate the theme and concepts to be learned. The novels still undergo a review to ensure they meet the goals and principles of our district, and are evaluated and scored for bias prior to board approval. As a board member, I balance the notion that while there is content that students should learn, ultimately the goal is to provide them with critical thinking skills. To do so, students need supported, developmentally appropriate and positive exposure to a diversity of materials so that they can learn to assess a range of ideas and perspectives.
At the same time, I also support some consistency with our materials so that educators are not faced with frequent overhauls to instruction and can instead focus on expanding the breadth and depth of their teaching and interactions with students. Finally, a movement towards more interdisciplinary and real-world connections is key to keeping students engaged and prepared for the future.
Aras: The superintendent and his/her staff, including consultants, should be responsible for choosing and implementing curriculum that is data driven, culturally responsive, meets the school district’s mission and values and adheres to all applicable policies. The school board should approve or reject any large changes to the curriculum. The board should also work with the superintendent to define appropriate success metrics, monitor progress and hold the superintendent accountable for the successful implementation of the curriculum.
How can the board help teachers and staff overcome affordability issues of living in Bellevue?
Wiest: Our students and community benefit on multiple levels when educators can live close to our schools. Last year the board approved a long overdue increase in teacher compensation, with additional cost of living adjustment this year, and will continue to look at ways to support all of our staff. As a school board director, I have been active in promoting affordable housing options for our educators within our district, and in conversations with other elected officials and relevant community partners. I support the work our district is doing with Microsoft’s affordable housing investment and the King County Housing Authority to prioritize making housing available to our educators. Along with the overall city of Bellevue affordable housing strategy, I promote the school district’s partnership with the city of Bellevue to assess existing district properties that are not sufficient in size or location for schools, but could be zoned and developed as housing with a priority for service oriented professionals for our city and school district. As we seek to attract and retain quality educators for our students, this is an issue that deserves continued investment.
Aras: Data shows that teachers who live within the city limits of the school district are more invested in the community and stay employed longer than those who don’t. So, the Bellevue School District needs to find creative ways to make this possible for our teachers given the extremely unaffordable real estate market.
BSD has been responsive and has taken steps to tackle this problem. In 2018, BSD partnered with Landed to assist with down payments for the purchase of homes. They are currently considering an option to build affordable housing for teachers on school-district owned, unused properties.
Other possible solutions might include a bonus or a slight pay increase for employees who live within the city, assistance with covering last month’s rent and deposits, and partnering with city of Bellevue to develop more affordable housing and change zoning regulations to increase the supply of rental units.
However, it is important that we first listen to our teachers who live a distance away from our city to understand their needs and what they would need to move to Bellevue.
How much should the board support diversity in teachers and staff?
Wiest: “Diversity can be defined as the sum of the ways that people are both alike and different,” according to the National Education Association. Quality educators have a range of characteristics, backgrounds, circumstances, and perspectives, and a common belief in high expectations for all students. As a board we recognize diversity is a strength in the education of our students as we strive to graduate thoughtful, resilient, productive, engaged, critical-thinking citizens and I upheld this value in our new equity policy. Students exposed to a multiplicity of positive perspectives and lived experiences in a supportive environment all benefit because they learn to understand different viewpoints, express their own multi-faceted identities, find role models and appreciate shared values.
Additionally, I support efforts to retain a diversity of highly-qualified educators and recognize their input is key. I piloted and am implementing a plan to go directly to listen to teachers and staff in schools, more than doubling current board outreach efforts to educators.
Aras: A diverse workforce that reflects the student body has several benefits, including but not limited to, improved cultural understanding, better behavior management, role-modeling for our diverse students, and increased trust within our community.
Bellevue School District formulated and passed a new equity policy which states “Implement hiring processes that proactively support the District’s commitment to hiring, recruitment, and retention of highly qualified staff of color and that promote and honor other aspects of a diverse workforce.” Therefore, the board needs to fully support the policy by employing teachers, support staff and leadership who reflect the diverse student population.
The superintendent, district level human resources, and individual school administrators should be responsible for ensuring equity in our hiring methods. The board should work with these stakeholders to define appropriate success metrics, monitor progress and hold stakeholders accountable for successful implementation.