Bellevue School Board candidates discuss growth, transparency at forum Monday

Bellevue School Board candidates weighed in on the district’s growth, transparency and even its Dreamer students at a forum on Monday.

Candidate Erica Melief for District 3, and candidates My-Linh Thai (incumbent) and Hugh Gladner for District 5 attended the forum, which was hosted jointly by Bellevue Schools Foundation and Bellevue PTSA Council.

In terms of what the school district could do to sustain its high rating and success, both Gladner and Melief said Advanced Placement classes and internships were well and good but the district needed to focus on the whole child to ensure those who learned in different ways were given opportunities to succeed. Melief pointed out there are other ways of learning and used the analogy that the district needs to be sure it’s not “judging a fish by its ability to climb a tree.”

Thai said the district will ensure its success through three approaches: collaboration with and support of educators through professional development and training, community partnerships and using data to drive action and policy.

As the district continues to increase student population, Gladner said this issue, which is Bellevue’s biggest concern, has impacted the budget to the tune of $3 million in reserves. Thai said she’s had conversations with many others about this issue and said other districts are experiencing the same overcrowding. Melief said she doesn’t have a good answer on how to address overcrowding but acknowledged the district’s building of new schools. All agreed collaboration was key.

Each candidate recognized the district’s success in college readiness and pointed to the need of ensuring the district focuses on students whose plans don’t include college. Thai reminded those at the forum of career and technical education, which provides students different opportunities through city courses, as well as the district’s partnerships with local colleges and institutes, such as Bellevue College, Lake Washington Institute of Technology and Renton Technical College.

When it came to ensuring the district is transparent, however, Gladner said this area was the “biggest frustration” the community had with the school district. He said there is a lack of transparency, which has led to less parent involvement. To combat this, he promised to host regular town hall forums if elected.

All candidates said they all sympathized with Dreamers, or those who were illegally brought to the country by their parents as immigrants.

“I don’t think there’s anyone here who thinks Dreamers should be deported,” Melief said, later echoing Gladner that anyone who acts as a good citizen should have the right to stay.

Thai said reading two essays by undocumented students is actually what prompted her to run for the school board four years ago.

“I ran because I wanted to make a change,” she said. Now, she said it’s a top priority at the state level.

Melief is a research scientist in neuropathology at the University of Washington. She is a mother to three young children not yet in the district and has lived in Bellevue for 12 years.

Gladner is in sales management and training and is a product of Bellevue schools. He has two children who attend school within the district and has volunteered with Jubilee Reach for two years.

Thai has served on the Bellevue School Board for four years and is a recipient of the Washington State PTA Outstanding Advocate Award. Her two children attend school in the district and she has lived in Bellevue for nine years.