Well it has been a while since I wrote a blog post for the site, but with the events unfolding in our community, and the turning point that I see us at, I felt compelled to make a statement regarding what I see happening.
As most of us are very well aware, last night was a very difficult night for the Northgate School District, as our school board accepted our Superintendant’s recommendation to furlough 23 teachers, and 10 part-time teacher’s assistants.
LiB heard the voice of the community and was well represented at the meeting, including Tom Fodi’s arm of steel which managed to hold that video camera for all 4 hours of the meeting. In keeping with our mission of ensuring that the community can stay informed on what goes on in our local governments, that video can be viewed on our website for those that could not attend.
At LiB, we are very concerned with the direction of our community, and Northgate School District is a very big part of that. None of us are pleased with the situation causing 33 people to lose their jobs, especially in this economy, however there are many factors at play here. I listened to each and every person that stood up and spoke last night, truly wanting to get a pulse on where things were standing in our community and was amazed at the grit, determination, and bravery that was shown. Understandably, the majority of the comments revolved around the impact to the class sizes, and I will also ask those questions. How are our students going to cope with larger class sizes and for those students with special needs, less teacher’s assistants? How are we going to stay viable for years to come when state education funding is going down and healthcare and pension benefit costs are rising? I don’t have all the answers, but I do have faith in our educators. I encourage them to show us what we all know they have; a passion for teaching and showing our kids that they can grow up to accomplish anything that they want, even when times are tough.
It is however, a two way street. While my daughter was upset last night, as were many children in our community, I told her that even when things get difficult and don’t go the way you want them to, that it is in these moments when you can challenge yourself to become better as well. I encouraged her to take responsibility for her education, understand the position that the teachers and the community are in, and to go the extra mile to make her school years everything that she wants them to be (I did stress the educational aspects as well, but those kinds of things are tough to communicate the importance of when dealing with an upset 15 year old). I encouraged her to get involved, whether it’s always being ready for class so that there are fewer disruptions at the beginning of each period even suggesting that she write a letter to the Superintendent volunteering her time to work with him to come up with ideas that would be valuable to the whole district.
It is in these kinds of actions that not only can we all personally become stronger but where our community, as a whole, can show that same grit and determination. While I know passions run high where our kids are involved, there is a whole other side to our community. In Bellevue, it’s the place where we all “Live, Worship, Shop.” Outside of the school, there is this whole town, whether it’s Bellevue, or Avalon. It’s the place where we spend most of our time. It’s where we wave at our neighbors as we drive past their house and the place where we always run into someone we know at Kuhn’s, or CVS. Whether it’s our kids’ education, or the valuable investments we make into our homes, this greater community, made up of the residents, the businesses, and the local governments, is the place that we need to ensure stays safe, and stays viable in the long term.
LiB has been vocal about where we see the direction of our community going. I don’t care which party you affiliate with, you are my neighbors and for the good of the community we need to work together. We need to ensure that businesses want to come to Bellevue, and stay in Bellevue. We need places for our children to hang out in a safe environment and be kids! We need places like the Muddy Cup where adults can go grab a coffee with their friends. We need others to come to Bellevue and think “Wow!” As one parent mentioned last night, we need a community where, “When the street lights go on, our neighbors help us watch our kids and keep them safe.”
The point I am making here, as a parent who has volunteered time, and sometimes thinks his wife volunteers too much time to school activities, is that we play a big part in this too. Instead of asking only what the school board is doing to increase enrollment, we should also be asking what we are doing for the greater community to show it as a safe neighborhood, where homes are reasonably priced, where it’s a great place to raise kids, where we have things to offer people. Do we want a community that our kids are going to grow up and want to leave? Or do we want to build a community that our kids grow up and think Bellevue is a great place to live and want to raise their own families here?
There are so many options here and I challenge everyone to find a positive outlet for this amazing energy that I know you all have. Use it to partner with the Bellevue council, use it to partner with our teachers AND our school board. Ideas aren’t enough at this point, and again, while I am full of regret over the loss of those educators, bringing them all back isn’t going to change the direction that our community is heading. We need to support our elected officials through those tough decisions that they sometimes have to make to ensure the long term viability of our town and schools, even when it seems painful.
Bellevue has many resources that we need to support. Here are some things happening now that are making a difference in our community and are always looking for helping hands. The Allegheny Together program started a business district advisory committee that has access to grant money that is helping us with putting together a streetscape design for Lincoln Avenue. We have a Skate Park going into its second phase of construction at Bayne Park that is bringing in children from all over the city to experience Bellevue. We have one of the most beautiful libraries in Pittsburgh in that same park with hardly any volunteers. We have a wonderful new dog park with dedicated folks that could always use an extra hand. We have a completely walkable community! If you see a piece of trash on the sidewalk, pick it up! We all need to do our part! Show your pride in where we live with action!
Most importantly, become a knowledgeable and engaged resident that knows what the council is working on, and what our school board is doing all year long. Don’t let them hear your voice only when there is something that you disagree with, but let them hear your encouragement when you are being supportive of their actions.
This is the time! Parents, kids, students, seniors….WE are the community. We are the ones that make it strong. We are the ones that turn these houses into our homes and it is in these dark times that we can and need to become the light of Bellevue. How we decide to act now, to raise our community up, will be a defining factor in the direction of our community for generations to come.