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I have been an advocate of public education for 20 years, the last 14 being in the Bellingham School District. During this time I have shown my commitment to students and staff by my involvement in leadership in PTA, District committees and task forces and community organizations serving children.
I would say that chronic absenteeism is one of the biggest issues facing the District. When a student is not in class or late to class, regardless of their grade level, they miss out on instruction as well as collaboration with their peers and learning support from teachers. Some of the reasons for chronic absenteeism can be homelessness or families in crisis. In the 2015-2016 school year, nearly 17% of BSD students were considered chronically absent. Continuing to support the district’s family engagement team and providing resources at each school to help these students can work to decrease the number of absences. Strategies should especially be focused on providing resources and support to students of varying backgrounds (socioeconomic group, LGBTQ, race, ethnicity, religion, disability, and language ability) to ensure a safe and enriching environment for all students and families. Letting students know there are people who are there for them and care can have a very positive impact
I am opposed to Charter Schools as part of the public school system. After doing extensive research over the years on charter schools throughout the United States I have found that there are more problems and complications with the schools than there are schools that actually help students. The overarching problem that arises with a majority of charter schools is mismanagement of funds and/or discrimination against students and staff based on either socio-economic, racial or disability barriers. Public schools main goal is to provide an education for all students while a majority of charter schools handpick the students that attend. Many charter schools do not accept students with disabilities as they do not provide the resources needed. I feel that Charter Schools are a drain on public school funding and many make no attempt to provide an education for all students.
I feel that high stakes standardized testing is not a benefit. When districts feel they must “teach to the test” there are no winners. Testing can be beneficial when it helps a teacher see where a student has strengths and weaknesses and can use this information to help a student succeed. When standardized testing is used to determine if a student can graduate or used as a tool against a teacher I feel that is more harm than good. Standardized testing is also unjust against low income students and students of color to a far greater extent. Standardized testing also represses critical thinking skills and moves to a more rote form of teaching. Critical thinking skills are one of the greatest assets we can provide to our students today. As a board member I would take into consideration all forms of structural barriers for standardized testing, advocate for ending the use of tests for tracking or for holding students back, and use the results for analyzing areas of improvement.
I am a proponent of elementary school start times being earlier than secondary start times. When my children were in elementary school they were up early each morning and we had a couple of hours at home before they left for school. When they reached middle school and high school age they were awake for less than an hour before they were sitting in their seat in the classroom, and they were exhausted. In talking with parents that currently have students in the Bellingham School District, I have not heard any complaints on the start times for students of any age. Research shows that teenagers sleep rhythms change and they typically find it difficult to go to sleep, with studies showing that the need to sleep on average is delayed by 2 hours. Having a later start time allows for a student to get more rest even if they are going to sleep later. When the start time is delayed for high school students, tardiness and absences decline. Less time missed increases student success.
The Bellingham School District has increased their on-time graduation rate steadily since 2010 with the class of 2017 having an 82.6% graduation rate. Helping 9th graders get acclimated to the school and the more rigorous work by providing peer and staff mentors. Statistics show that 9th graders who fail 1 class or less have a greater success rate than those that fail 2 or more, so helping the student keep current with assignments and being prepared for tests. Providing resources, such as after school help sessions, to students that have little or no support in studying outside of the school day also helps to increase success. Reducing tardiness and absences helps a student stay on track and more connected with their school community. Reducing the amount of school suspensions has also been shown to improve graduation rates. Providing a variety of classes that address diverse learning styles and needs and to address barriers that hold students back from being successful.
Bullying should be addressed immediately in any school setting, whether that be in the building, on school transportation, school sponsored events or online. Empowering students to have a voice and to seek help if bullying is taking place should be your top priority as a District. Providing resources of what constitutes bullying and how to report it should be available to both students and parents. Providing training to all staff to recognize bullying and how to step in and diffuse a situation and appropriate actions to take especially concerning discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, ability, sexual orientation, etc. You must be sensitive to different types of bullying and respond in an appropriate matter. The biggest mistake that is made is when bullying is not reported or if it is reported the situation not being dealt with. Making sure that all staff is aware of the policies and procedures to make sure our students feel safe at school.
Bellingham School District has had a requirement of 3 credits in civics to graduate for almost a decade. While the state graduation requirements has increased to 24 credits, Bellingham School District will require 30 credits to graduate by 2021. BSD has addressed this increase in credits by moving to a 4x4 schedule with a total of 8 classes that a student can take a semester and now offers 23 classes in the civics curriculum to address diversity in course choices. The District now offers not only the core requirements of Civics, US History, and Contemporary World History; but also such diverse offerings as Comparative Religious Studies, World War II Through Film and Literature, Micro and Macroeconomics and Law and Society, to name a few. I would continue to support this diverse and robust offering in the Bellingham School District.
60% of all students in the United States will face being removed from the classroom or suspension in their school career. When a student is suspended they not only miss out on classroom contact but they do not receive credit for their work. This takes a student who may already be struggling, straight to a path of failure. Many suspensions are given to students for minor infractions that restorative justice could be used to address. Across the United States the top reasons for suspension is disobedience or defiance not for fighting or violence. Providing staff with the training needed to help de-escalate a situation instead of it turning into a bigger issue should be mandatory. In addition, In school suspensions, restorative justice and positive behavior intervention and support can all be ways to address suspension issues. There will be times when a more serious infraction has occurred and disciplinary actions will need to be taken, but suspension should be used as the last resort.
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For 15 years, I’ve worked with and on behalf of children and families—including providing violence prevention education and trauma counseling in every public middle and high school in Whatcom County—deeply connecting me with student, family, and District concerns.
1. The biggest area of concern facing our District is the troubling achievement gap between students with low-income and their peers. Locally and nationally, poverty is the most influential factor on academic success, impacting graduation rates, participation in athletics and the arts, and college enrollment. Alarmingly, BSD’s gap is larger than the statewide gap, as well as similar school districts.
2. Washington State is suffering a teacher shortage, which has implications on hiring in the Bellingham School District. The shortage, in addition to the challenges of finding affordable housing in Bellingham, is of major concern.
3. Another major area of concern is Bellingham’s growth, particularly in north Bellingham, where housing is rapidly increasing. For this reason, it is imperative that Bellingham voters pass the 2018 special levy in February which would allow three of our northern elementary schools to be rebuilt for increased enrollment capacity.
Overreliance on standardized tests can be stressful and time-consuming for students and teachers, and can create a false sense of security for those who do well and feelings of failure for those who do not. Standardized tests are not a complete appraisal of achievement and should never be used alone to measure student, teacher, school, or district success. It is also critical to recognize that most standardized tests have a level of cultural bias, failing to consider student background.
However, the district must monitor student learning to identify where gaps are occurring and determine where resources should be allocated to correct inequities. Standardized testing should be a limited part of this data collection, and used in conjunction with other measurements. The data should always be broken down by sub-groups, providing important information about our students, and eliminating the potential for strong test-takers to overshadow student needs.
I believe in a well-funded, equitable traditional public school system that does not include charter schools as part of its model. Charter schools are falsely presented as a critical component of “school choice”. However, Bellingham students are already provided with a wide range of options: traditional public school, private school, parochial school, and homeschooling.
Charter schools drain our traditional public schools of resources, while being allowed to circumvent local, state, and federal regulations and standards. While charter schools in Washington have only recently been implemented, research in areas where charter schools are more prevalent have been shown to range from inconsequential to detrimental to student learning. Our students are not experiments; we should be working to fund traditional public schools that benefit all students.
I believe that in making any District decisions, multiple sources should be considered, including scientific research and student, parent, teacher, and staff feedback.
An impressive body of research indicates that later start times for secondary school students are tremendously beneficial on student achievement. In the Bellingham School District, a later secondary school time also allowed expanded course options for high school students. While these types of massive, districtwide changes must also be weighed along with constituency and logistical concerns, I do believe that districts should seek to adapt their schedules in accordance with current recommendations. Negative impacts in shifting the schedules should be minimized as much as possible; however, the health, education, achievement, and equity implications of later start times for secondary school students and earlier for elementary school students are too great to ignore.
Our district’s on-time graduation rate was 83% in 2016, well above the state average but below that of comparable high-performing districts. However, students in four sub-groups–students who are Hispanic, English language-learners, low-income, and/or have IEPs–are still disproportionately graduating at much lower rates. Solutions to improving the on-time graduation should consider the unique challenges and untapped potential of these students.
Expanding early childhood education is one of the most effective strategies for improving the on-time graduation rate. In particular, providing all students with the opportunity to attend two years of high-quality universal preschool has been shown to be especially beneficial to short- and long-term success.
We should also seek to further engage families, provide additional counselors, help address basic needs, and identify responses to challenging behavior that do not effectively push students out of school.
School bullying is heartbreaking and insidious. When teaching violence prevention education in our schools, I had the opportunity to have conversations with students and teachers about bullying. I believe that students should play a critical role in developing their school’s response to bullying. Many students I worked with requested increased supervision in the halls, more training for teachers on responding to bullying, and better follow-up for bullied students.
School should create climates where bullying is not tolerated and policies are well-understood and enforced. All school staff should feel prepared to effectively respond to bullying in their schools. Counseling support should be provided to students who are bullies or are being bullied. An “upstander” culture should be developed, where simply being a bystander (as a student or staff member) is not tolerated. Finally, students should be taught to practice empathy and be provided with opportunities for interpersonal connection
The Bellingham School District is currently offering courses that satisfy Washington State’s new requirements to earn a .5 civics credit. Class offerings include Civics, Law and History, and Advanced Placement political science courses.
Schools should prepare their students to be active participants in their community and build strong civic values. Students should learn to think critically and debate positions, understanding how to engage effectively in local issues. Hands-on opportunities should be offered, including attending City Council meetings and writing to elected officials.
Our current students are future voters and tax base; we will all benefit from robust civics education for today’s youth. For this reason, I recently proposed and implemented Bellingham City Council’s first “Family Council Day”, a child-friendly council meeting and meet-and-greet. Many families came who’d never attended a prior meeting and several students even provided public comment on pertinent issue
Suspension is a familiar–yet ineffective–response to classroom disruption. Research shows that out-of-school suspension is ineffective, at best. Suspended students, many of whom are already detached from school, are minimally deterred by the threat of a day off. It can exacerbate isolation from the public school system and create “pushouts”: students who drop out after multiple suspensions. While students should be provided with an environment conducive to learning, it is not acceptable to force out students for disruptions. Outside of safety risks, removing students from school is largely unnecessary and promotes the concept that school is not a welcoming, inclusive place.
Instead, students who disrupt should be offered additional support rather than be suspended. Other effective solutions exist, but require a paradigm shift around discipline, as well as additional resources. These solutions may include counseling, school court, and restorative justice practices.