Student attitudes not keeping up with growing diversity in Bellevue schools

The author graduated in the top 1% of her class at Bellevue High School. (Photo by Melanie Hassler)
The author graduated in the top 1% of her class at Bellevue High School. (Photo by Melanie Hassler)

Bellevue’s image as a homogenous, white, suburb is going away. The Seattle Times’ Gene Balk reported this morning that Bellevue is more diverse than Seattle. The Bellevue School District has been less than 50% white since October 2010.

Graphic thanks to The Seattle Times.
Graphic thanks to The Seattle Times.

“We are a very diverse district,” said the school district’s interim communications manager Melissa Laramie in an email. “As of 2010, minorities make up 50.7% of total district enrollment. More than 80 languages are spoken in the Bellevue School District, with 30% of students speaking a first language other than English. About one in five students receive free or reduced-price meals.”

But as a graduate of Bellevue High School’s Class of 2011, and a person of color, I am skeptical that these demographic changes will mean more opportunity for students of color on the east side.

When my mother and her family moved to the Bellevue area in 1980, the school district had a 92% white population. Since then, this proportion has drastically changed — and while the increasing rate of minority representation district-wide is observable and significant, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Bellevue’s high schools, which are ranked as some of the best in the country, are located in different parts of the city and individually reflect unique demographics.

While Sammamish High School, Interlake High School, and Newport High School have all seen their minority populations pass the 50% mark in recent years, Bellevue High School and International School, despite noticeable and significant demographic changes, retained a white majority as of 2013.

Like the schools, Bellevue itself is far more diverse in some places than in others. Balk uses a measure known as the “diversity index” — the likelihood that any two people will be of different races. In Bellevue, that ranges from a low of 30 in West Bellevue up to 74 in Crossroads.

Graphic thanks to The Seattle Times.
Graphic thanks to The Seattle Times.

Bellevue High was 59% white during my senior year. A large proportion of my classmates were white, wealthy, and upper middle class. As an Iranian American I didn’t feel, and have never felt, white – despite the fact that I have checked the box marked “white/Caucasian” many times.

My family–a divorced parent lower-income household–reflected neither that of the typical Bellevue kid, nor that of my few Iranian schoolmates.

Kristina Keogh, who teaches English literature at Bellevue High, has seen racial diversity increase rapidly since she started at the school in 2008. But she notes that attitudes have not kept pace: she says students are generally convinced that the high school is not economically and racially diverse.

“When I first started teaching at Bellevue things felt more separate, it felt like a campus with cliques, and people stuck to their groups,” Keogh said. “It has since changed, perhaps as a result of increased diversity, but I think there’s a negative stereotype that continues to persist about students who move here and are not English speakers.”

It begins to become apparent that different regions of Bellevue are telling different stories, and that meshing these observations into one citywide statistic overshadows the realities of economic disparity, linguistic diversity, and the influx of new immigrants to this relatively small city.

Keogh believes that the most significant marker that continues to otherize students is economic inequality.

“I’m hoping that our nature will change such that students no longer identify themselves by their economic status. In Bellevue, there’s a stereotype that students are very wealthy, but numbers show that isn’t necessarily true,” Keogh said. “There is a significant number of students on free or reduced lunch. Students who are not as wealthy feel really bad about themselves and feel left out. I wish people would be more inclusive.”

Keogh believes that the less-represented minorities at Bellevue, such as the black population, which stands at 3%, were and still are underrepresented. According to Balk’s analysis, the overall black population stands at 2.2% citywide.

“I teach one African American student right now out of about approximately 145,” Keogh said. “In class we talk about race and ethnicity often, and it’s disheartening when that voice isn’t represented.”

Seeing how the city and school district has changed since I left in 2011 has challenged me to revise my perceptions of “the Bellevue experience.” While Bellevue’s diversity is rapidly and notably growing, we shouldn’t forget that there is an increasing need for attitudes to shift to accommodate to such changes.

While I’m sure that attitudes haven’t remained completely stagnant, I have no doubt that there are still students navigating Bellevue’s remodeled halls feeling unwelcome or different.

I know it’s how I often feel when I venture outside of the remarkable communities I’ve encountered while attending the “diversity conscious” University of Washington just a bridge away.

2 Comments

  1. it would be way easier if the Bellevue School District would admit they have a serious problem. Kind of like the recent JV basketball player who sent the nasty tweets to Garfield, but that neighboring school district is still pretending that no players were involved. People get really tired of these administrators lying to the taxpayers.

    Top 10 Reasons to FIRE school officials who break state and federal laws and their own board policies.

    1. Ricardo Cruz hired his cronies (Don Roberts and Larry Sera) to illegally pose as fake mediators and fake investigators. Violations of your own school board policies against discrimination and retaliation. Why did the district work so hard to hide Public Records from the taxpayers and why has this taxpayer funded evidence been destroyed (FELONY)? Is it true that Ricardo got hired thanks to a family member at BSD?

    2. Nancy Larson has been threatening workers for over a decade. Perjury before a State Judge is still a crime and so is calling someone’s employer to slander and defame them (FELONY). She has a long history of employee rights violations and people will testify against her.

    3. Ryan, grounds lead called a peer a racial slur in a school district. That’s just plain wrong. He can hate all he wants on his own time, not on the taxpayer dime.

    4. Ryan’s buddies put a nasty picture of dying African AIDS babies on my work seat. They can hate all they want on their own time, not on the taxpayer dime.

    5. Larry Sera was paid ~$118,000 of your taxpayer dollars from 2009-2013 and got an illegal raise from $100 to $125 an hour. He’s the Former Asst. Supt. so why didn’t his work go out to bid. The district claims they didn’t have to do that, based on these jobs being so low. That’s criminal! Larry told all of the eyewitnesses they would be fired if they spoke up. Ask Ernie Hanson and Tony Brookes, 2 of the most senior employees who still have a job after fighting for them. Nancy gets really upset when she does not get her own way – we define that as a serial workplace bully.

    6. Look up Ricardo Cruz Audit on Google if you need more proof of corruption. Not only did he waste a ton of money in King County hiring his friends at the high end of the pay scale, it later cost King County taxpayers 40 million dollars when permatemps sued and won.

    7. Find out why Ricardo was forced out of the Seattle School District twice and Don Roberts was also asked to leave. They were both involved in serious employee rights violations.

    8. Look up the 9th Circuit Case 12-35580. Ask why the district wasted well over half a million of your taxpayer dollars hiding the truth, while they have been offered mediation this whole time?

    9. It’s illegally to discriminate against someone when they report serious safety violations and over the top discrimination. Ask Juan how he felt when someone wrote puto in his office? He also did not like being told by Nancy that his English was not good enough to essentially mow lawns and do landscaping. He had 16 years of school district experience and he was already a full time employee.

    10. There have been 3 Superintendents in the past 3-4 years who have taken no action to make things right and the School Board is using overpaid attorneys to hide behind. You have already wasted over $500,000 of our taxpayer dollars hiding the truth.

  2. Ricardo Cruz is a thug! He was the head of the Seattle School District’s personnel office under the late derelict general turned schools superintendent John Stanford until he (Cruz) was forced out by an investigation into district corruption.

    I was stunned to learn that Cruz then found employment as a deputy prosecutor with the City of Seattle or King County, I believe. Later I heard that another corruption scandal forced him to flee to another county.

    Isn’t it time this POS was dealt with? He shouldn’t be working with kids.

    I’m running for the office of Washington State Governor and will be happy to give Ricardo Cruz all the attention he so richly deserves. See me @ http://www.governor5.com

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