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2018 Promise Award Recipients Celebrated

Bellingham Public Schools recently surprised our 2018 Promise Award recipients and are pleased to announce the honorees from our schools. The Promise Awards Program recognizes the exemplary achievements and contributions of staff and volunteers connected to The Bellingham Promise, our district’s strategic plan. The Promise Awards are supported by the Bellingham Public Schools Foundation. You can view photos of our Promise Award events here.

Collaboration Award: Roosevelt Elementary School Title I Literacy Intervention Team – Lisa Aucutt, Kiersten Barr, Carmen Avila Cervera, Shelly McKay, Melissa Peterson and Penny Will

Roosevelt Title I Team wins Collaboration Award

The Bellingham Promise states that “together we achieve more than alone.” The Roosevelt Title 1 Literacy Intervention Team exemplifies this, providing innovative, powerful teaching, and collaborative support to students and staff. As a team they work tirelessly to support literacy development by providing small group instruction, working inside classrooms, and honoring the integral connection between reading and writing.

A colleague says, “I see day in and day out how tirelessly these women work to support struggling readers. With this team we are all partners in supporting students to be engaged and excited learners.”

Collaboration Award Honorable Mentions (tie): 

AIMS Team, Northern Heights Elementary School: A parent says of the AIMS Team, Throughout this school year, the AIMS team at Northern Heights has gone above and beyond to help my child. The extreme thought and care for my child’s well-being is truly humbling. They work closely with us, sharing improvements my child is making in class. In my opinion, this team embodies The Bellingham Promise specifically in that all children should be loved.”

BEATS Team, Shuksan Middle School: The BEATS program provides a launch pad for learning after a day at school. Students who come to BEATS find a family at school. They build connections with peers, find common interests, support one another and grow together. The BEATS team models relationship building, helps students reflect and plan for their future.


Compassion and Service Award: Jeff McKenna, Bellingham High School

Jeff McKenna earns Compassion and Service Award

With almost 30 years in Bellingham Public Schools, Jeff McKenna has made a positive and lasting impact.

Jeff was an instrumental part in creating the GRADS program and has stayed active with the program by serving as co-chair on their advisory group. Jeff is also the co-chair of the district Mobile Response Team. He has supported families, students and staff in dealing with grief during tragedy by remaining calm, being empathetic and encouraging healing conversations. Jeff also provides training in Bellingham and throughout the county on suicide prevention. He encourages students to be involved in suicide prevention, recognizing the importance of peer support and awareness during the teen years.

He currently works as the intervention specialist at Bellingham High School, working with students impacted by drug or alcohol issues in a non-threatening and confidential manner. He helps students examine their choices, and how those decisions impact their education, relationships and futures.

Compassion and Service Award Honorable Mention: 

Liesl Vial, Squalicum High School: Liesl helped write a grant to initiate an in-school coffee shop for the Bridges Program, coined “Bridges Beans.” This shop provides students opportunities to build connections with staff, gain vocational experience, customer service experience and problem-solving and money management skills. The commitment and concern Liesl has when she works with students and families is unwavering.


Dependable and Responsible Award: Donna Hulford, Sehome High School

Colin Cushman, Donna Hulford and Dr. Baker

Donna has been with Bellingham Public Schools for almost 26 years and colleagues describe her as upbeat and delightful to work with. As the activities and athletics secretary at Sehome, Donna works with student groups and arranging out of district travel. She is in charge of clearing parent and community assistants as volunteers and drivers. She is a key player for students who participate in athletics. She clears students and ensures eligibility by checking grades, attendance and course credit load for Running Start students. She schedules all post-season athletic needs from hotels, to rental cars to van reservations. She goes out of her way to follow up with students and ensure they have everything they need.

A community member who nominated Donna said, “Her sense of humor and compassion for our often frustrating and exhausting schedule is unparalleled. I have no idea what we will do when she retires!”

Dependable and Responsible Award Honorable Mention: 

Dominique Lantagne, Districtwide: Dominique facilitates Special Olympics and Unified Sports for the district in addition to her work as a Teacher on Special Assignment supporting Community Transitions. Colleagues say Dominique’s organizational skills are amazing and her passion is infectious. She works hard for the best possible outcome for kids in Unified Sports and has grown the program so a sport is offered year-round.


Great Teaching Award: Sam Stapleton-Cousens, Birchwood Elementary School

Sam Cousens wins Great Teaching Award

When you enter Ms. Sam’s kindergarten classroom, you enter a magical place where each person is seen as they are on their best day. Sam believes that all children can achieve at high levels, and her students rise to the occasion because they know she loves them. Her instruction is dynamic, creative, innovative, and it varies from week to week. She teaches to the whole child, knowing that if she reaches their heart, the mind will quickly follow. She can often be heard saying calming words to a small child, reminding them this world is better because they are part of it.

Her students say it best: “Ms. Sam is the coolest. If anyone is sad or mad she helps them,” and “I like the feeling she gives me. She makes stuff all better.”

Great Teaching Award Honorable Mentions (tie): 

Joe Balsiger, Bellingham High School: Joe has served as a mentor to staff members for many years. He is a dedicated and resourceful teacher and has spent numerous hours developing classroom activities which both engage students and connect them to the real world. He is an advocate for quality science experiences and stretching students to think as scientists to tackle real world problems.

Kara Bezanson, Bellingham High School: Colleagues describe Kara as wonderful, uplifting, engaging, energetic, smart and funny. She puts love and energy into each child in her classroom, and it continues into the German American Partnership Program. She teaches Bellingham kids and kids from across the globe, not only another language but how they belong in the world.


Above and Beyond Service Award: Lynn Cooper, Options High School

Options High School wins Innovation and Flexibility Award

Lynn Cooper has given more than 16 years of devotion to Options High School, the students and their families. Lynn serves students and staff selflessly in any task that is needed. She is an office staff member, the attendance secretary, a notary, an emergency substitute and so much more. She brings her background in math and science into the classroom, where she supports the teachers in helping students. Colleagues say they witness on a daily basis the love Lynn bestows upon each student.

A colleague writes: “Lynn never looks for recognition and in fact, this award will probably embarrass her greatly, but we need to recognize her selfless support after the many years of service to Options from when it was the tiny, cold portables to this beautiful building that she helped realize.”

Above and Beyond Service Award Honorable Mention:

Martha Zender, Sehome High School: Martha is a bridge to community partnerships. She connects our students to options for volunteering, college, employment, enrichment, and skill center programs. She is always coming up with new, creative ways to share resources and information, to remove barriers, and to support all students. Martha promotes a message that “aptitude and attitude will take you far in life” and she walks the walk, being efficient, organized, dependable and loving.


Innovation and Flexibility Award: Options High School Staff and Students

The Options team dug deep this year, maintaining their close and supportive culture while embracing growth in a new facility, with new students, and new staff. They rose to the challenge of moving into and opening a new school building, supporting more students than ever before, welcoming new staff members, adjusting to the new, later start and end times, as well as the new 4×8 block schedule, and learning together as they started the new 1:1 (one-to-one) laptop program. This is truly a team like no other.

The Options Armadillo Squad, as they are known, is dedicated to loving each and every student who attends Options High School regardless of the challenges that they bring. This team is also committed deeply to each other. The success of each person, each student, the team and the school is a shared value.

Innovation and Flexibility Award Honorable Mention:

Districtwide AIMS Team: The AIMS (Access in the Mainstream Setting) team is the perfect example of an innovative idea that supports social-emotional and academic growth of Bellingham students. The AIMS team provides support for students who have sensory, social, communication and/or behavioral needs be a part of a general education classroom. This program has not only been a success for students supported by the AIMS team, but also for general education students who have developed their sense of understanding and compassion.


Outstanding Leadership Award: Jeff Tetrick, Director, Career and Technical Education

Jeff Tetrick has put his heart into building an excellent Career and Technical Education (CTE) program. Jeff has done an outstanding job of working with teachers from a variety of work-related fields. He supports ideas and efforts from teachers with industry experience by applying for grants and other funding that has made it possible for teachers to have the supplies and equipment they need.

A colleague writes: “Whenever I have a problem in my classroom, no matter how small – Jeff immediately jumps into action to help me solve it. I don’t know how he does it, but he is always responsive and action-oriented. He truly puts our students and their experiences at the forefront. Jeff has brought a new vision to CTE in our district.”


One Schoolhouse Award: Bellingham Public Schools Foundation

Kim Lund and Greg Baker

The Bellingham Public Schools Foundation, including its staff and board of directors, has raised more than $1 million to support equity and opportunity for all students in our schools. The Foundation continually seeks to distribute resources in an equitable way.

The Foundation is mindful of emerging needs and future planning by working to build partnerships with local businesses to provide much needed services such as parenting education classes. They are responsive to the immediate needs of students.

The Bellingham Public Schools Foundation includes executive director Kim Lund, executive assistant Kathy Dooley and board members: Jason Alexander, Rogan Jones, Michele McNamee, Sam Gearhart, Ashley Kimberley, Brad Swanson, Meredith Hayes, Christin Lunny and Scott Wilson.

The district Promise Awards Advisory Group, comprised of staff and community members reviewed and scored the nominations and selected the 2018 Promise Award districtwide recipients. The Outstanding Leadership Award nominations are reviewed separately by colleagues. Note: The Volunteer/Community Partner of the Year Award will be announced in April.