Dear Columbia Neighbors,

My name is April Barker. I am your City Council member and Council liaison to Bellingham Public Schools. I would like to bring to your attention potential middle school boundary changes to be presented at Columbia Elementary, Dec 11 6-730.

History: Columbia attended Shuksan a couple of decades ago. Our community changed and overtime the District worked with community members to adjust boundaries in response, resulting in Columbia students attending Whatcom Middle after Bellingham High was built. Today more changes have occurred. Rapid growth to the north has added pressures on Shuksan with over-crowding and an imbalanced demographic compared to the total demographic of youth in Bellingham Schools. Continued growth to the north is expected to create more demands on Shuksan if current boundaries remain. Other schools like Fairhaven have experienced decreasing enrollment and demographic imbalances increasing. In response to these and other concerns at the High School and Elementary levels, the District convened a group of staff, parents, students and community members to develop new boundary recommendations. I applied and was accepted to participate in committee. We have been meeting for over a year exploring lots of potential changes, the implications of those changes and the domino effect changes could/may create. The committee has developed some working solutions that help balance the enrolment numbers, consider future growth, address some of the socioeconomic imbalances and other concerns like elementary splits etc. One of those scenarios is Columbia kiddos attending Shuksan. This allows future growth up Meridian St to be absorbed by Whatcom and brings Whatcom and Shuksan to a very similar socioeconomic student body.

Underlying Causes: These imbalances in population and demographics within Bellingham schools is related to our housing policies and past decisions related to growth. The City Council’s Planning Committee has held a series of meeting with community members and organization such as the Bellingham Public Schools to understand “How does Bellingham’s current land use/housing/demographic distribution patterns effect your organizations ability to serve the community?” We are considering a Housing Equity Assessment that may help to highlight the gaps and potential opportunities to balance our growth and demographics. Research shows that socioeconomic integrated communities have higher levels of upward mobility across the socioeconomic spectrum. Our City Comprehensive and Consolidated Plan support integrated communities. I hope you will continue to engage and support Bellingham challenging work to develop housing policies that allow more diverse housing choices throughout our City– to promote more social economic mixing, collaborative learning, improved access to alternative modes of transport and ultimately better outcomes for all.

U.S. Demographic Shift: Kiddos today are in the midst of a rapidly changing demographic. They will suffer a huge economic burden as adults, (2033 more seniors than youth for the first time in the history of the united states) making it imperative that each child is a productive and contributing member to society in adulthood. Your children’s’ peers across the nation are rapidly become a minority majority (2022, 17 years and younger will be minority majority in the U.S.). In 2044 our nation’s entire population will be minority majority. This is an exciting change to be embraced, and also highlights the urgent need to make changes necessary to ensure our institutions and systems are fair and equitable for all. Moving forward business as usual, upholding unfair practices bent to support some at the expense of others– will now more than ever end in severe discrimination, economic imbalance and segregation.

Opportunity: There are social and cogitative benefits for kiddos that attend diverse schools. Exposure to diversity inspires innovation, problem solving, and deeper friendships and care for folks who are different (religiously, family dynamic, culture etc.) then oneself. These are attributes our kiddos most have as they approach adulthood in a racial diverse America-in hopes they will be productive, compassionate contributors to our Nation.

Gift: From a parent of a Shuksan kiddo, I believe Columbia families are being offered a huge gift to have the opportunity of their children getting an education at Shuksan! Columbia kiddos and their families will have greater opportunity in developing family friendships across a spectrum of cultures, beliefs, backgrounds and ethnicity.

Giving a Gift: By supporting a move to Shuksan, the Columbia Neighborhood offers a huge gift of opportunity to our community by opening space at Whatcom to absorb future growth to the north, opportunity for family members dependent on public transit gaining great access to bus routes to attend school functions, and opportunity for Whatcom boundaries to include a broader demographic that more closely mirrors the youth in Bellingham.

Personal Experience: My daughter (and son next year) attends Shuksan and is getting an amazing education in academics, life, group dynamics and so much more. She exposes our family to new thoughts and ideas when sharing about her day a school. We have an amazing diverse group of family friends and get invited to so many different and exciting events and celebrations. My world has been expanded in such a positive way by her attendance to Birchwood and Shuksan. We also are exposed to difficult things and so is she; which leads us to have deep and meaningful conversations as a family- talk about local and global concerns that impose difficult situations on some of her classmates and our neighbors– and problem solve on how we can work to inform those systems for better outcomes. I truly believe she is better for it and so are we I look forward to seeing you at the meeting and request humbly that you attend with an open and progressive mind, ready to have meaningful conversation and move toward real, important and appropriate solutions for all kiddos attending Bellingham School District. More kiddos doing well in Bellingham, feeling a sense of opportunity and belonging, means your kiddos will have a better youth experience in Bellingham too.

Our children are watching and learning how we respond to unexpected change and problem solve complex issues.


April Barker, Bellingham City Council Member 360.325.5128

A Message from Principal Aaron Darragh
Please join us, December 11th from 6:00-7:30pm at Columbia Elementary to learn more about the work of the Attendance Boundary Committee. Assistant Superintendent, Steve Clarke and Executive Director, Jay Jordan will share the work of the committee and answer questions. Committee meeting notes are available here. Aaron Darragh Principal, Columbia Elementary (360) 676-6470

Columbia Elementary School 2508 Utter Street Bellingham, WA 98225-2708 Main Office: (360) 676-6413