Quality Bainbridge Questions – Answers by Christina Hulet, BISD School Board Candidate, District 4
1) What is the proper role of the School Board in relation to teaching staff and the school administration? How much managerial authority should the School Board exercise in connection with the day-to-day operations of the schools?
The School Board is entrusted by the community to oversee the governance of the school district (the “what”); the administration and staff are responsible for the day-to-day management of our schools (the “how”). As a School Board member, I take seriously my responsibility to help set the strategic direction of the district and ensure that we are responsive to the values and priorities of our community. Sound governance also means adopting policies, establishing the budget, hiring and evaluating the Superintendent, and monitoring the district’s financial and operational performance. School Board members do not have managerial authority over staff. We do, however, serve as community representatives. When concerns are raised or improvements suggested about the district’s day-to-day operations, the Board can be a conduit between the community and the district to address gaps, analyze issues, ask questions, and brainstorm solutions.
2) What would you propose as the three most effective steps the School Board take in the next four years to respond to budgetary challenges?
First, I recommend working proactively with state elected leaders to address gaps in state funding (e.g., in special education, youth mental health, to name a few). From 2004 to 2009, I served as Executive Health Policy Advisor for Washington Governor Christine Gregoire. In this role, I negotiated complex policy and budget issues with legislators, state agencies and stakeholders and saw firsthand how important it is for state officials to understand the impact of their decisions on local communities. We’re fortunate to have strong, education-focused legislators in our district and should continue working with them.
Second, we need to continue managing the district’s budget responsibly within available funds. This includes being conservative in our estimates about the number of students we expect each year. Our enrollment is dropping—we graduate over 300 seniors for every 200 kindergartners coming in—so I think it’s prudent to develop an annual budget that assumes lower enrollment at the outset to minimize cuts mid-year.
Finally, I believe strongly that we as a School Board must always stay focused on our core mission and values—that our responsibility is to serve and work on behalf of all students even in the midst of budget challenges. That is why I’ve prioritized my time on the School Board to updating our District Improvement Plan. This sets the district’s strategic direction and should guide how we prioritize limited resources.
3) What are the biggest operational challenges facing the School District in the coming years?
Like many school districts in Washington, we experienced significant budget challenges this year due to lower student enrollment and changes in state policy and funding. We also invested in teacher and staff salaries in order to attract and retain high-quality staff. Looking ahead, we must ensure a financially sustainable budget for our teachers, staff and families. This stability is critical to maintaining a positive culture, achieving strong outcomes and supporting our teachers and students to do their best work.
Another challenge is how to support the health and well-being of our students. Our schools achieve incredible academic outcomes—high graduation rates and strong test scores—and we can be proud of these accomplishments. And, it is also true that parents and students alike have shared with me the enormous pressures they feel to achieve. In an era of rising anxiety and depression among our students, I support the district’s efforts to embed social and emotional learning in the K-12 curriculum and strengthen relationships with our students. We must make it clear to students that we value them for who they are as well as for what they achieve. In collaboration with parents and families, we can support our children to develop into strong, healthy youth who can lead fulfilling, meaningful lives.
Finally, I see a strong connection between our students’ well-being, their academic performance and our efforts to advance equity within the district’s operations. I believe in equity, inclusion and diversity as a core value. As a School Board, we have a responsibility to ensure that every student—irrespective of income, race, ethnicity, ability, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc.—receives the opportunities and supports they need to thrive. This is consistent with who we are and aspire to be on Bainbridge, and I believe it is foundational to fulfilling the promise of our country.
4) What criteria should be used in deciding what new programs should be added or making other curriculum changes? What, if any, curriculum changes should the School Board review?
The school district has adopted specific procedures to guide how program and curriculum changes are made. I appreciate this process because it creates a rigorous and uniform way of evaluating what we offer and actively involves community members. For example, we have an Instructional Materials Committee that includes administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals, community members and School Board members. Together, they make curriculum recommendations to the School Board, which ultimately approves core instructional materials. In 2013, the district also set up a process to evaluate new and programs and included criteria such as alignment with mission, student outcomes and cost.
As a School Board member, I look for a number of things when reviewing program or curriculum changes. For example, does it align with our core mission, vision and values? Does it support the priorities we committed to in our District and School Improvement Plans? Does it advance equity, support the social and emotional health of our students and/or provide them with tools and skills they need to effectively navigate the world? Can it support the diverse needs and learning style of our students (e.g., audible/online versions, different reading levels, etc.)? These are just some of the questions I consider when reviewing curriculum changes.
5) What is your approach to alternative educational pathways in our School District?
First, our school district will need to implement recently passed legislation that expands the number of ways Washington students can earn their high school diploma. For example, the state is more flexible now in how it counts dual credit courses, SAT/ACT scores, and CTE (Career and Technical Education) classes toward graduation.
Second, I support and am grateful to live in a district that offers a variety of programs to meet different student needs: Odyssey’s K-6 Multi-Age Program, the Mosaic Homeschool Partnership, Eagle Harbor High School, Highly Capable Program, Special Education, Running Start, etc. I also want to encourage different career pathways for our students. We can do this through CTE courses and through partnerships with local organizations such as Rotary and Bainbridge Youth Services that are connecting students to internships, mentorship, job shadowing and other career opportunities.
6) What is the district’s responsibility to educate young people about critical social and environmental issues that affect their communities and lives, such as the climate crisis? What does educating young people about such issues look like at the school district?
I am concerned that the critical issues of our time—climate change, inequity, among others—are weights in the backpacks of our kids that are not theirs to carry alone. I don’t know that we’re doing enough. However, there are several things we can build upon. We can continue to embed environmental study in the K-8 science curriculum and offer courses such as Analyzing the Modern World, Civics, Environmental Science, Marine Science, and Global Citizenship. We can support student-led environmental and social cause clubs. We can connect students with businesses, nonprofits and city initiatives that are working on these issues (e.g., the Climate Change Advisory Committee).
We can also adopt curriculum that helps our students think critically about today’s issues. For example, since I’ve been on the School Board, we’ve adopted a new U.S. history curriculum that asks our high school students to assess how the U.S. has lived its values of liberty, opportunity, rights, democracy and equality. We’ve adopted new books such as Man’s Search for Meaning, Refugee, Ghost Boys, Educated: A Memoir, The Reluctant Fundamentalist and The 57 Bus—all of which speak to important issues of our time. Finally, we should continue to embed social and emotional learning in our schools, which is important to raising healthy, resilient youth who can navigate the world they’re going to inherit.
7) Are there any additional strategies the School Board would support an environment in which all students and staff feel both physically and emotionally safe?
Physical and emotional safety is foundational to being able to learn and to teach. It has to be a priority, always. At the recent Healthy Youth Summit, I was encouraged to hear that 92% of our students, across grade levels, report feeling safe at school. But I also know what it feels like as a parent to get the “in lockdown” email from school. There is always more we can do.
To that end, here are several things the district has and should continue working on. We can design buildings for safety (e.g., greater visibility, clear lines of sight, controlled access, sheltered areas). The BHS 100 building, for instance, was redesigned to move the Commons up to the center campus to provide more physical safety. The School Board reviews and has recently updated its safety drill and law enforcement policies. District administrators have regular meetings with our police department to ensure strong collaboration and appropriate, timely responses. And, as I mentioned above, I believe that continued attention to the social and emotional health of our students is vital. Part of how we address safety is by building a strong sense of community on Bainbridge, and that is something all of us can do.