The popular image of Bellevue is one of wealthy suburbanites whose children glide from plush public schools into elite universities. But the reality is a lot more complex.
Bellevue, the city, is slightly more diverse than Seattle, and in its schools nearly 30 percent of students speak a first language other than English. About 200 are homeless, and in some buildings, more than 67 percent of the children are low-income. Meanwhile, only 18 percent of Hispanic youth from Bellevue complete college.
These statistics stunned the late Bill Henningsgaard, a wealthy Microsoft executive whose shock became the driving force behind Eastside Pathways, a coalition of 46 groups determined to improve outcomes for all Bellevue kids.
In its broad-based, cradle-to-career approach, Eastside Pathways — which encompasses city officials, school district educators and nonprofit groups — resembles South King County’s Road Map Project. Both use data and cast a wide net, enlisting community groups to help boost results for low-income students.
But Road Map has a $40 million Race to the Top grant, and Eastside runs on a shoestring, with only three paid staffers pursuing a tight focus on Bellevue alone.
Goal No. 1: Ensuring that every third grader in the 18,500-student district reads at grade level by 2016.
“Our overall rate of 83 percent passing is fairly good, and some communities would love that,” acknowledged Executive Director Stephanie Cherrington. “But in a community like Bellevue, with our resources and potential, we should be able to do better for all kids.”
The coalition, which formed in 2011, issues regular reports on Bellevue’s progress to date. But the group also works on a grassroots level — for example, hammering out an answer for 200 kids who were not reading well and needed summer help last year.
The school district stepped up to provide day camp for some. YMCA officials covered the rest. The schools offered transportation. The Y brought staff.
“This is pretty much how we work,” said Cherrington. “These are complex problems that we’re trying to solve and it’s very messy. The school district can’t do it alone.”