Ella Baker Elementary named National School of Character

Ella Baker Elementary named National School of Character

One of just 50 schools across the country with this distinction

Redmond, Wash. – Ella Baker Elementary in Redmond has been recognized as a National School of Character. This is the first time a school from Washington state has been recognized with this award. The recognition comes from Character.org, an organization dedicated to empowering people of all ages to practice and model core values. Kim Bilanko, the Principal of Ella Baker Elementary, says she is committed to the approaches outlined by Character.org, and is proud of her staff for their dedication.

“This recognition validates the commitment our entire staff has made to develop a school that creates a caring community, uses a comprehensive, intentional, and proactive approach to develop character, and provides all students with opportunities for moral action,” said Principal Bilanko in a recent email to her staff. “I feel so fortunate to work alongside staff members who are committed to a vision and live each day working collectively and intentionally to empower changemakers who know themselves, understand others, and are inspired to make an impact on our world.”

Below is an overview of the feedback the school received during the final review:

“Ella Baker Elementary School, part of the Lake Washington School District in Redmond, Washington, opened its doors to its first class of students in the 2018-19 school year. Tasked in 2017 with putting together a team and opening a new school, principal Kim Bilanko led the charge in creating a new elementary in this large, suburban district. Ms. Bilanko and the team very intentionally built a school that is focused on the whole child. In the application, they describe how they analyzed the district’s mission, guiding principles, and student profile. They discovered that 80% of those outcomes focused on “interdisciplinary skills and attributes (character and success skills).” The team identified a disconnect between those outcomes and the structures used in the past that were primarily focused on curricular content. As such, they set out to find resources that had an emphasis on how to embed character development and SEL to guide the creation of Ella Baker Elementary. This work led the teacher and administrator team to create a set of core values called “The Baker 8 Traits” for their new school community. Those traits are Empathy, Self-Control, Grit, Embracing Diversity, Gratitude, Optimism, Curiosity, and Integrity. From the moment teachers were hired and students set foot in the new school, the Baker 8 have guided everything the school’s stakeholders do. Ella Baker has been open for four years now, and literally half of that time has been spent in a pandemic that has significantly disrupted education, and yet, this team has repeatedly found ways to embed the Baker 8 into all aspects of the community. Despite the hardships and setbacks, a real sense of community has developed. This team has chosen to engage in the Schools of Character process as a means of continuing their growth and commitment to educating the whole child.”

Since its inception, the National Schools of Character program has impacted over three million students, staff, parents, and community members. The schools and districts that apply must meet the rigorous standards articulated in Character.org’s 11 Principles Framework for Schools. Each school is assessed by a team of trained evaluators. 

“There is an ethic of care at these schools,” adds Lori Soifer, who directs the Schools of Character program. “Working together with students, parents and community members, these schools are creating stronger communities focused on character.”

Character.org will honor the 2022 National Schools and Districts of Character at its next International Forum, to be held virtually, October 19-20, 2022. 


About Lake Washington: Lake Washington School District is a high-performing, fast-growing public school district serving Kirkland, Redmond, and Sammamish, Washington. It is the second largest district in the state of Washington, with over 30,500 students in 57 schools. 

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