Education

Who is Tacoma school district’s newly appointed board member and what are her plans?

An early childhood policy consultant with a history of work in education policy will start her job as Tacoma Public Schools’ new board member next month.

The district’s board of directors voted Thursday to appoint Elizabeth Bonbright to fill the open seat vacated by Karen Vialle, who passed away over the summer.

Bonbright, 62, told The News Tribune she’s excited to start.

“I’m coming into this with an open mind,” she said. “I hope anyone and everyone will feel comfortable bringing their issues forward.”

Bonbright has lived in Tacoma for almost 30 years and has two daughters who spent their K-12 years in Tacoma Public Schools.

Currently, Bonbright works with early childhood professionals and administrators at the national level as an independent consultant in education policy.

Previously, she worked as the executive director of the Washington State Child Care Resource & Referral Network (now Child Care Aware of Washington).

Bonbright also was a staff member in the Washington State Senate during the 1992 legislative session. Previously, she was a policy advisor for a California senator.

Her work in policy was attractive to the current board members.

“She’s had experience with early childhood which everyone felt was important,” director Debbie Winskill said. “She’s lived in Tacoma for a long time. She’s had kids who’ve gone through the system.”

Director Scott Heinze pointed to Bonbright’s years-long experience in early education policy and expertise in the subject matter.

“Considering the primary role of a school board member is to set policy, that would be advantageous (for the board),” Heinze said.

Bonbright offered some ideas on some of the issues Tacoma schools are facing. When it comes to the district’s budget deficit, leaders need to ask for help not only from the state Legislature but from potential community partners to help bridge the gap financially, she said.

“I feel very strongly that it takes a village,” she said.

Bonbright also is open to the idea of exploring later start times for schools, a topic that’s been under discussion by the board in recent meetings.

“I understand that it’s not a simple transition,” she said. “There’s a lot to contend with, but I’m very enthusiastic to learn more.”

Bonbright applauds the district’s graduation rates but said she wants to keep tabs on how to help students before they start school and after they graduate.

“I want to make sure we work at both ends — graduation is incredibly important but you have to have a good start,” Bonbright said. “I want to be engaged in the long-term, holistic approach.”

Bonbright will be sworn in at the Nov. 7 board meeting and will serve through 2021.

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