Bellevue School DistrictThe Bellevue School District has 16 elementary schools, five middle schools and four high schools. The district also hosts alternative programs at Robinswood...

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Bellevue School District

The Bellevue School District has 16 elementary schools, five middle schools and four high schools. The district also hosts alternative programs at Robinswood Middle and High schools and the International School (grades 6-12).

Special-education programs are spread throughout the system, with enrichment centers for gifted students at Bennett, Eastgate and Medina elementaries and a full-day program for children who score highest on an IQ test available at Stevenson Elementary and Odle Middle schools.

For more information, contact the school district at 12111 N.E. First St., P.O. Box 90010; 425-456-4000, or

The Bellevue School District, long considered among the best in the state, has managed to keep its edge through budget cuts and demographic changes, a high staff turnover and Superintendent Mike Riley’s push for higher standards.

Riley came to the district seven years ago, bringing with him a fresh, controversial vision of how Bellevue’s schools should run. Through the years, Riley, former associate superintendent for the Baltimore County public schools, has become known for his take-charge style — a style that has impressed some staff members and alienated others.

He has made major changes in the district, from reducing the drop-out rate to revamping the K-12 curriculum. He has shuffled staffers from school to school and raised the bar for graduating seniors.

Many advanced courses

Last school year, about 70 percent of seniors graduated with an Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate course on their transcript. While he is encouraged by the district’s progress, Riley says he is still frustrated by the number of seniors who opt not to take those high-level courses.

A new proposal to overhaul graduation requirements would better prepare those students for the workplace, Riley says. The plan would require, among other things, an additional credit in math and two more credits in science before graduation. If passed, the proposal would take effect in 2010.

A wave of immigration during the 1980s has made the Bellevue district more economically and racially diverse than ever. Thirty-one percent of the district’s students are minorities; they speak more than 60 languages.

Growing diversity

The district has had mixed results in adapting to the changed student population. Graduation rates for all ethnic groups have improved over the years while dropout rates have declined. But Hispanic and African American students are under-represented in Advanced Placement classes and continue to score significantly lower than the rest of the school population.

The district is revamping its English as a second language program to assure that students are acquiring language skills as quickly as possible. Students in the ESL program have made modest gains in testing in the past few years, but test performance remains poor.

Vicky Murray, assistant superintendent of student services and alternative programs, says the district is aggressive when it sees students failing to meet the standards set for them.

“We’re constantly questioning what we’re doing,” says Murray. “We’re willing to take the risks, and sometimes the criticism, to make changes.”

High staff turnover

In the past few years, the district has suffered from a high staff turnover, with more than 15 percent of teachers leaving the district in 2001. While some cited Riley’s management style, many said low salaries and the high cost of Eastside living forced them out. Bellevue and neighboring districts are working together on plans to make the area more affordable for teachers, from providing low-interest loans to building affordable housing.

Created in 1979 as an enrichment organization, the Bellevue Schools Foundation now raises more than $800,000 a year to offset cuts in state funding. The group also began a Child Care Scholarship initiative last year that helps about 40 parents work their way out of poverty.