2022 Promise Award recipients celebrated

A Message from the Department of Communications and Community Relations

Bellingham Public Schools recently surprised our 2022 Promise Award recipients and we 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. 

In addition to the award feature photos below, an album of additional photos from surprise visits is available here.


Above and Beyond Service Award 

Joy Lovingood, head custodian at Carl Cozier Elementary School 

Joy Lovingood smiles with hands together at hallways at Carl Cozier at staff and students look on
Carl Cozier Head Custodian Joy Lovingood (left) surprised by Superintendent Greg Baker (right), Principal Ari Feeney (middle right), students and staff.

Joy is beloved for her work and care of all those in the Carl Cozier community. On a daily basis, she engages with others, treats everyone with respect, and accommodates numerous requests with a smile.  

Colleagues note Joy is aptly named, sharing joy to all at Carl Cozier. Others marvel at Joy’s caring interactions with students throughout the school, all of whom she knows by name. 

Two prime examples of Joy’s dedication to above and beyond service are through her leadership of the student chess club and lunchtime clean-up crew.  

The morning chess club supports diverse needs and learning styles, providing a hands-on approach to learning and community. The lunchtime clean-up crew builds student self-esteem and sense of efficacy. Students are known to be rewarded for a job well done with dance parties Joy leads to celebrate teamwork.  

A colleague shared, “Not only does Joy engage in the hard work of keeping our school clean and running smoothly, but more importantly in the work of loving and uplifting our kids every single day.” 

Above and Beyond Service Award honorable mentions:
Brian Collins, technology operations supervisor:  
“…whether being on-site to troubleshoot a problem, helping coordinate and staff after-hours events, responding to emergencies at all hours of the day and night, coordinating with vendors and partners to ensure critical systems are repaired quickly, and so much more, Brian always makes an extra effort to deliver on the ‘Strong Support’ central to The Bellingham Promise.” 

David Robinson, head custodian at Bellingham High School:  
“To say David Robinson ‘goes’ above and beyond would be inaccurate because that’s where he starts. His attitude and his work ethic contribute to a culture of caring and excellence that is inspiring because he doesn’t just demonstrate the best of our ideals, he lives them. Dave embraces honor, respect, and caring for others that goes far beyond his position as head custodian at Bellingham High School.” 

Collaboration Award 

Katie McGrew, student information systems technician  

Katie McGrew, corworkers and nominating staff pose for a photo in a conference staff room
Katie McGrew (center) holds apple with elementary administrative assistants and department coworkers.

Katie advances the goals of Bellingham Public Schools through extraordinary collaboration and communication. She maintains an equity-minded approach to supporting many people across the district. 

Working with Skyward, the district’s student information system, Katie teaches and empowers staff to operate and maximize the capabilities of the system. Doing so allows staff to best serve their respective school communities.  

Known for clear instructions with prompt solutions in exceptional turnaround time, Katie’s collaborative mentality is deeply appreciated. Her collaborative approach is described as an unwavering support to every office. She takes care of staff so they, in turn, can take care of and support one another.  

At the elementary level in particular, front office staff work extensively in Skyward with tasks such as student registration and class organization. Katie is described by her primary level colleagues as the backbone to elementary administrative assistants.  

Community Partner of the Year

We have two Community Partner of the Year honorees this year.


Dr. Veró Vélez, Western Washington University professor and high school ethnic studies volunteer advisor, teacher 

Left to right: Squalicum Principal Miguel Perez, Dr. Veró Vélez, teacher Joe Wooding and Superintendent Greg Baker
Left to right: Squalicum Principal Miguel Perez, Dr. Veró Vélez, teacher Joe Wooding and Superintendent Greg Baker.

Veró has dedicated countless hours to supporting the Bellingham Public Schools ethnic studies course launch at the high school level.  

Volunteering to support this endeavor over the last three years, she has met, workshopped, facilitated and advised district staff. Veró’s volunteer commitment rose to new heights during the current school year, as she has been in the classroom at Squalicum High School as a volunteer co-teacher of the ethnic studies course.  

A Woodring College of Education professor at Western Washington University, Veró brings remarkable expertise, care and commitment to students. Peers describe Veró as a true gift to education. A colleague said, “…students care about what Veró knows because they know she really cares about them.” 

Veró’s work is a multifaceted example of The Bellingham Promise in action. She exemplifies great teaching with strong support and commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion through working with staff and students. She furthers the one schoolhouse approach by supporting the launch of the ethnic studies course at each high school and builds educational innovation through connecting WWU and BPS 

A1DesignBuild, local general contractor  

Zoom call squares
Superintendent Greg Baker, bottom middle, leads a Zoom call recognizing A1DesignBuild staff.

A1DesignBuild has been an amazing partner to Bellingham Public Schools, working with the district’s family engagement team to serve families and the community in remarkable ways. 

The company recognizes the whole child is important, and in turn donates its talents, financial resources and time to lift up families and support students. 

During remote learning, A1DesignBuild built and delivered 65 desks and chairs to families in need – all free of charge. The company’s work has also included providing foldable wooden bed frames and building food pantries to serve district families in partnership with the BPS Family Resource Center. 

The organization’s compassion and desire to serve the community and education is widely demonstrated. A1DesignBuild donates a portion of their net profits to support the community and school families. In conjunction with other builders, A1DesignBuild also helped establish a $25,000 scholarship at Bellingham Technical College for students who want to pursue building industry careers. 

Compassion and Service Award 

Lonnie Schang, art teacher at Sehome High School 

Sehome Principal Sonia Cole, art teacher Lonnie Schang, Superintendent Dr. Baker, and executive leadership members pose for a photo in art classroom with Lonnie showing clay on hands
Left to right: Sehome Principal Sonia Cole, Lonnie Schang, Superintendent Greg Baker, Deputy Superintendent Michael Copeland, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Kristi Dominguez and Executive Director for Teaching and Learning Trina Hall.

Lonnie Schang has lived The Bellingham Promise and demonstrated compassion and service with a wide-ranging impact during more than 30 years at Sehome High School. 

As an art teacher, Lonnie has mentored thousands of students and countless teachers – including new teachers and veteran teachers. Lonnie’s peers describe him as “the hub in the high school and middle school art teachers’ wheel” and a “fountain of knowledge.”  

He is known as a generous source of wisdom and levity for all around him. Reaching out to staff across the district to help with better practices, setting up ceramics programs and organizing beautiful art installations are just a few examples of his compassion and service.  

Lonnie is passionate about finding ways for every student to learn. His classroom is described as “…a place where all kids thrive and have the chance to explore aspects of their creativity.” He goes far beyond what is asked by serving on countless committees, performing in school plays, attending events, publicizing student artwork and collaborating with galleries to encourage community engagement.  

A colleague shared, “Lonnie has been a constant reminder to others of how life with art magnifies our community.” 

Great Teaching Award 

Kurt Ottum, math teacher at Squalicum High School 

 Superintendent Greg Baker, Kurt Ottum and student Alberta Serratos pose for a photo with apple trophy in front of projector screen
Left to right: Superintendent Greg Baker, Kurt Ottum and student Alberto Serratos.

Kurt’s teaching at Squalicum High School is widely admired and commended for his commitment to student engagement and inclusion.  

His instruction exemplifies The Bellingham Promise strategies of great teaching with strong support, equity, diversity and inclusion; and innovation and flexibility.  

Students, staff and families note Kurt’s ability to make math fun, engaging and interesting for all students. His commitment is exemplified through dedication to working with students before, during and after class to ensure each student is supported and equipped for success.  

It is evident in Kurt’s teaching that he teaches to the whole child, knowing that when the heart is reached the mind will quickly follow.  

His teaching and classes promote self-worth and belonging, helping students to feel comfortable in letting them know it is OK to make mistakes.  

Great Teaching Award honorable mentions:
Kelly Morgan, first grade teacher at Birchwood Elementary School: “She speaks in Spanish as well as English in her class and students who are multi language learners feel heard and important. She is welcoming to students’ families and engages them. She makes sure students have supports at home.” 

Kacy Keck, special education teacher at Sehome High School: “…Kacy Keck has demonstrated efficiency, dedication, empathy, and the personal need to perform and do more than what is expected of her. I am always notified and updated on my student’s progress. My student has been taught and, when it was appropriate, nurtured in times of dire need…. Her performance is the epitome of the ‘Bellingham Promise.’”  

One Schoolhouse Award 

Health Services Team, districtwide team  

Kim Niederhauser, director, health services; school nurses: Krissy Abbey, Colleen Boisjolie, Caroline Cho, Shelly Donahue, Amy Eisenhauer, Lori Fransen, Sonia Harder, Alyssa Johnson, Tobi Melton, Matt Neisinger, Sheri Wiess, Deb Wilkowski; health room assistants: Carmen Andersen, Alpana Bhanot, Lauren Higgens, Roohi Joshi, Mandeep Kaur, Angela Onukwufor, Sofia Rodriguez, Karly Schenck, Jennifer Thornton; Jennifer Gaer, volunteer coordinator and Amelia Vader, grant writer (vaccine clinics coordinators, testing support, communications, grants); Angie Ritchey, executive administrative assistant, operations

Group of health services staff pose for photo with apple trophy in health services office
Left to right back row: Jessica Sankey (executive director, operations), Lori Fransen (school nurse), Angie Ritchey (executive administrative assistant, operations), Kim Niederhauser (director, health services), Matt Neisinger (school nurse); left to right front row: Amelia Vader (grant writer), Jennifer Thornton (health room assistant), Mandeep Kaur (health room assistant), Alpana Bhanot (health room assistant), Tobi Melton (school nurse), Alyssa Johnson (school nurse). 

The Health Services Team has gone to extraordinary lengths and effort throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to serve families, staff and the community.  

A key Bellingham Promise strategy is the commitment to a one schoolhouse approach. Together our schools are a larger one schoolhouse, focused on taking care of one other with an equitable distribution of resources and services to ensure excellence for all students. 

Over the last year, the Health Services Team has developed districtwide systems to support each school in response to COVID-19 protocols and the ever-changing pandemic. The team works tirelessly to interpret protocols and be the center of a consistent, one schoolhouse approach in responding to COVID-19 and prioritizing successful in-person learning for all students.  

From the development and teaching of tools and trainings, to operating the Test to Stay program, to establishing testing sites, to coordinating vaccine clinics and so much more, the team’s work has gone above and beyond serving students, staff and the community.  

Outstanding Leadership Award 

Sonia Cole, principal at Sehome High School 

Superintendent Greg Baker honors Sehome Principal Sonia Cole during assembly speaking into wireless mic as students, staff look on
Sehome Principal Sonia Cole (left) is surprised at a school assembly with Superintendent Dr. Baker (right).

Sonia puts her heart and soul into serving the Sehome community with exemplary leadership. She brings a sense of urgency to her work while maintaining a culture of trust and compassion. 

Sehome staff describe Sonia as a master gardener, with her garden being all of Sehome. She plants seeds for growth and cultivates a sense of family through inclusion and innovation. A colleague shared, “Sonia has a gift for seeing the most direct path of action, especially when students are involved. She listens deeply and responds thoughtfully and swiftly.” 

Exemplifying a rare combination of strength and vulnerability, her compassionate leadership provides an important anchor in all circumstances. With intentional care for all students, she works tirelessly to develop systems to help students access learning and thrive in doing so.  

The phrases “just tell me what you need” and “we’ve got this” are synonymous with her caring approach to leadership. 

A student shared, “I appreciate Ms. Cole because she cares about the student body. When I talk to her, I feel heard and understood. Ms. Cole is very smart, caring and I can tell she loves Sehome. I couldn’t ask for a better principal.” 

Volunteer of the Year

Betsy Rocks, multilingual learners volunteer at Bellingham High School and Sehome High School 

MLL specialist Lindsay MacDonald, Betsy Rocks with flowers and Superintendent Greg Baker
Left to right: Multilingual Learner Specialist Lindsay MacDonald, Betsy Rocks and Superintendent Greg Baker.

For years, Betsy has volunteered each day in Bellingham Public Schools. 

Alternating her time between Bellingham High School and Sehome High School, she works with students in the multilingual learners program and inspires with her expertise, care and support.  

As a bilingual volunteer educator, Betsy empowers those she works with to learn, thrive and develop lifelong learning skills. Her work embraces the diversity of our community and helps assure all students feel supported and loved. 

Her work is a prime example of The Bellingham Promise in action and furthering the mission of the multilingual learners program, which is dedicated to building capacity at the district, school and classroom level to ensure students develop English language proficiency and content knowledge in an environment where linguistic and cultural assets are recognizes as valuable resource to learning. 

Volunteer of the Year honorable mentions: 

Monique Stefens, AVID volunteer at Options High School: “…she listens to my students and witnesses their lives, their concerns, their dreams. She validates their feelings, then gives them tools to understand themselves and others…my students always have questions for her and tell me they look forward to ‘Mondays with Monique’.” 

Oliver Jackson, volunteer coach at Sehome High School and Shuksan Middle School: “Coach Jackson presents as a very quiet and reserved individual but really shines when he works with kids and makes our students feel seen, heard and valued… in his tenure, has modeled passion, responsibility, and a love of the game to all of the young people he’s worked with. Some people shy away from working with middle school students, but Oliver seemed to strike a balance of understanding their needs and connecting with all students.”

These award recipients represent our school system and help increase awareness of the important contributions of all staff and volunteers. Members of the Promise Awards Advisory Group and the previous year’s award recipients score nominations for districtwide awards. (Outstanding Leadership Award and One Schoolhouse Award are reviewed and selected separately by leadership colleagues.)