After interviewing four candidates for the vacant District 1 director position on Jan. 17, the Bellevue School Board voted to appoint lawyer and longtime community member Sima Sarrafan to the seat. She will serve a two-year unexpired term.
“I’d like to ensure Bellevue School District continues its tradition of academic excellence and success and that all students, regardless of their needs, meet their full potential,” Sarrafan told the Reporter in an email. “I’d also like to see more students have greater exposure to and proficiency in coding and be prepared to adapt and contribute to an ever-changing world.”
During her interview with the board, Sarrafan said she is a product of the Bellevue School District herself, having attended Stevenson and Bennett elementary schools, Odle Middle School and Interlake High School. She currently has one kid at Interlake High School and another at Bellevue High School. She said that she gained a lot from the district and continues to do so, and felt a “duty to give back.”
Bellevue School Boardmember Steve McConnell announced his resignation in November, creating the vacancy in District 1, which includes the Northwest Bellevue neighborhood, Medina, Clyde Hill, Hunts Point and Yarrow Point. Four people applied: Sarrafan, realtor Mark Oppfelt, technology executive Azfar Moazzam and teacher Annette Sternberg.
“We were truly impressed with all the candidates and feel fortunate to live in a community with so many dedicated and engaged citizens,” Board President My-Linh Thai said in a statement from the district. “My fellow directors and myself felt that to select just one of the candidates was among the most difficult decisions we have made during our tenures on the board.”
Sarrafan has worked for Microsoft Corp. in the office of internal compliance and is now the lead marketing lawyer for Windows. Before that, she was a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C., and then a stay-at-home mom and part-time law professor. She went to Vassar College, earning a degree in economics, and to Harvard Law School. She has also volunteered in legal clinics, helping veterans, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.
She said that the biggest challenges facing the district have to do with the budget, communication with the community and inclusion in an increasingly diverse region. She said she dealt with budget cuts as a trustee of the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation, and would be able to help the board navigate through a time of uncertainty in education funding.
Current board members Thai, Carolyn Watson, Erica Melief and Christine Chew asked several questions each, focusing on the role of technology in education, the board’s processes and priorities and racial equity.
Sarrafan said that to her, racial equity means that regardless of their background, each and every student in Bellevue feels respected and like there’s a place for them. She said that the district should continue to support individualized education, but be mindful of giving students labels that may make them feel like their potential is limited. Though one of her kids is in the gifted program, Sarrafan had reservations about the message that program sends to “non-gifted” students.
Having taught undergraduates at Harvard while she was studying law there, Sarrafan said she also understands the expectations for that level of education. But, she said that the most important things to teach kids are adaptability and kindness. She said that the board and district need to ensure that “kids are treating each other well” and that teachers are fostering a respectful environment.
Sarrafan will be sworn in at the next regular board meeting at 4 p.m. on Feb. 6 at the Wilburton Instructional Service Center.
See www.bsd405.org/about/school-board/ for more.