Students cheer with smiles for their teacher who received a Promise Award.

Bellingham Public Schools leaders recently surprised our 2016 Districtwide 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.

2016 Districtwide Staff Member of the Year: Steven Dolmatz

Steven Dolmatz is retiring after more than 30 years as a teacher in our schools. Steven is a caring and dedicated teacher and is known for being a lifelong learner and team player who shares his insight and strategies with fellow teachers. According to one colleague, “Steve has never quit searching for better ways to teach writing, literature and critical thinking. Best of all, he has never grown tired of sharing what he has learned with his peers.”

Steven is known for the strong and respectful relationships he builds with his students and believes that all students can achieve at high levels. A former student writes: “I can honestly say that Mr. Dolmatz was one of the most motivational and inspiring teachers that I’ve ever had. His passion for teaching is amazing. It’s something that makes his students want to work hard; it’s something that makes them believe they are capable of anything. He’s one of the reasons I got into the college of my dreams and I will forever be thankful for everything he has taught me.”

2016 Districtwide Staff Member of the Year: Elizabeth Uelmen-Johnston

Elizabeth has been part of a team to decrease the out-of-school suspension rate at Shuksan. She maintains discipline records, runs data reports, creates graphs of studentdiscipline data for student and family meetings, assists the behavior team in implementing effective school-wide practices and connects with families on a regular basis to see how she can support them best. In addition to all that, she coaches multiple sports too.

A colleague writes: “Elizabeth is an irreplaceable resource for Shuksan and I can confidently say that our school is a better place because of her work with staff, students and families. Her ability to connect and gain the trust of some of our most highly impacted students makes her the perfect staff member to support our in-school suspension room.”

Students describe Elizabeth as supportive, understanding and positive. They say Elizabeth is always willing to talk and share her insight and advice.

Staff Members of the Year Honorable Mentions:

Tara Vaughan, Kulshan Middle School: “Tara is a champion for equity, helping every child reach their fullest potential. In the world of math with its right and wrong answers, Tara has a gift for validating different thought processes through artful questioning.”

Judy Calhoun, Bellingham High School: “Judy is an amazing resource for students and staff at BHS. She is always willing to go the extra mile to make sure that we get the help we need. And the best part is that she has a positive, solutions-focused attitude.”

2016 Districtwide Team of the Year: Squalicum Storm Freshmen Mentor Team – Jason Bergman, Josh Durias, Elyse Slagle and Katie Ruthford

The transition from middle to high school can be a scary and challenging time for students, but at Squalicum the Storm Freshmen Mentor program is there to provide support, even before the school year begins. The program allows current students, sophomores to seniors, to step into a leadership role and become mentors to freshmen.

A staff member writes: “Over my years of teaching, one program that has consistently helped create and maintain a positive and inviting climate is the Storm Freshmen Mentor program. Each fall a new group of ninth graders arrive at Squalicum and are welcomed by well-trained student mentors who had once been as simultaneously anxious and excited as the new arrivals.”

Jason Bergman has coordinated the program for the past 13 years. He and his team put in countless hours throughout the year planning and facilitating the program. Their work with students at Squalicum builds positive relationships beyond grade levels and supports a positive school culture that continues each year as new freshmen walk in the door.

Team Honorable Mention:

Shuksan Support Team – Jennifer Cowan, Annie Racicot, Theo Mills, Brock Muench, Taylor Romero, Jenifer Rolie, Tina Allsop, Sean Flikke, Casey Floresca, Linda DuBois and Elizabeth Uelman-Johnston: “This support team has been instrumental in helping to support some of our most at-risk students in staying both in school, and in the classroom, where they receive more time with the curriculum and their teacher.”

2016 Districtwide Community Partner of the Year: Assistance League of Bellingham

The Assistance League of Bellingham is known for many of their programs, but perhaps the most well-known is Operation School Bell. This program provides families the opportunity to shop for new clothes for their kids. Providing new clothes to students takes away barriers or distractions to education by lessening at least one stressor of attending school.  Last year the Assistance League helped clothe more than 1,700 students county-wide.

Another valuable program supported by the Assistance League is the Enrichment Scholarship Program. Middle and high school students can apply for scholarships to attend academic camps. Last year, the Assistance League granted 70 scholarships to Bellingham students. A student who benefitted from an enrichment scholarship writes: “I am so grateful to the Assistance League program because I would not have been able to experience and connect with some really amazing people. I know so many people benefit from their help and get to have great learning experiences.”

Community Partner/Volunteer Honorable Mention:

Laura Livingston, Bellingham United Debate Coach: “Debate is very intense. It is easy to get down on yourself after losing a round, but Laura comes back with so much positive reinforcement and support that you look forward to the next round with a new outlook.”

2016 Leader of the Year: Eric Paige

Eric has brought about changes, big and small, to Carl Cozier in his five years as principal. He has been instrumental in leading the Cozier community along the path to becoming an International Baccalaureate school. He’s supported the adoption and training of staff in Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. Staff say these choices in particular show his desire to provide the best opportunities for students to grow into self-reliant and responsible community members.

Staff say they feel supported, cared for and valued. Especially in the area of professional development, staff say Eric is aware of their needs and makes sure they have time to collaborate and learn together.

Parents say Eric does not shy away from conflict. He thoughtfully listens to concerns from parents and works hard to be part of the solution. A proud Cozier parent writes: “Eric is a true leader who has created a caring community engaged in learning. Through creativity, innovation and inclusiveness, Eric is fulfilling The Bellingham Promise everyday. But, more importantly for me, he has created a space where I want my child to be.”

Nominations for volunteer or staff member awards were organized in the following categories: Staff Members of the Year, Team of the Year, Community Partner/Volunteer of the Year and Leader of the Year. The district Promise Awards Advisory Group, comprised of staff and community members reviewed and scored the nominations and selected the following 2016 Promise Award districtwide recipients. The Leader of the Year nominations are reviewed separately by colleagues. 

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