Bella Wong Departs L-S on her Own Terms

Photo+courtesy+of+Bella+Wong

Photo courtesy of Bella Wong

The 2022 – 2023 school year is Bella Wong’s tenth year as Superintendent/ Principal at L-S. However, on October 8th, Wong announced that she would not be seeking renewal of her contract and would be stepping down in June 2023. Typically, the L-S school committee votes on whether or not to renew the contract, but Ms. Wong withdrew her request for renewal before the voting process began. “There was a change in the political outlook on the school committee,” she explains. “I would’ve liked to have stayed, but I didn’t have the majority of the committee’s support to continue.” Wong provided the committee with evidence of her accomplishments at L-S, but she recognized that this did not make a difference in their desire to bring the school in a new direction. “Clearly this committee  wanted different leadership. I am not sure how broadly they fully represented all stakeholders.”

I would’ve liked to have stayed, but I didn’t have the majority of the committee’s support to continue.”

Heather Cowap, chair of L-S School Committee, cites community input as a main reason for Wong’s resignation. “I think the feedback we were receiving from the community played a role in her decision,” she reflects. As a one-school district, the system at L-S is nuanced. The roles of Principal and Superintendent are “ distinctly different with very different expectations from the community,” according to Cowap. Specifically, she believes that we have “a gap in communication” typically filled by the principal role and would like to see “some innovation in communication methods and new leadership that will move us to the next level.”

Nevertheless, Cowap acknowledges Wong’s legacy at L-S. “We are very fortunate to have had Bella through this time period,” she reflects. Specifically, she cites Wong’s financial management of the district  and her response to the pandemic as vital efforts that ultimately strengthened the community.  Cowap explains, “she did a fantastic job managing us through COVID…we’re fortunate that we did not lose anybody to this disease.”

School systems are complex, and the inherent political nature of the process can lead to disagreements. “It’s politics. Anything with politics is complex because of all the moving pieces,” Cowap says. “People are voting, people are representing people who voted for them, and we are running a public organization.” Overall, Cowap concludes that “members of the school committee represented their voting blocks” in the actions they took.

 

INTRODUCTION TO EDUCATION

Bella Wong first came to L-S as a student teacher. Before that, she attended law school and worked as a corporate lawyer. Before that, she earned a graduate degree in molecular biology at Stanford. Before that, she studied at Harvard College, and, far before that, she learned to read in a Boston classroom. Ms. Wong’s diverse background continuously informs her work in the public sector today, inspiring those around her to appreciate a multitude of perspectives in hopes of moving towards mutual understanding.

Growing up, Wong aspired to a career in medicine. However, she explains that she wanted “to do something more in the public sector, so I became a teacher.” As a student teacher for Betty Jane Buseik’s biology class, Wong was first introduced to the L-S community. A metal latch panel labeled “The BJB” in Buseik’s honor still stands among the organized artifacts of her office space, a reminder of her joyful start in teaching. Wong remained seven more years as a science teacher ,which included two years each as a Department Coordinator and President of the Teachers Association before leaving for the Wellesley Public School system.  After serving as Assistant Superintendent at Wellesley and taking time off to raise her twin boys, Wong was originally hired by L-S in an interim position. Her connection to the community and diligent work were apparent, and the school committee offered her a contract as Superintendent/ Principal. The 2022 – 2023 school year is Ms. Wong’s tenth year in the position.

WONG’S TIME AT L-S

A main catalyst in Ms. Wong’s decision to return to L-S as Superintendent/ Principal was the aftermath of the January 2007 murder where James Alenson was stabbed by another student. “We felt helpless to support what was happening…The community became very insular, and they weren’t talking about it,” she says. Grappling with the outyears of the school-wide trauma proved a momentous task, yet Wong gained plentiful experience and developed a keen sense of emotional intelligence. Then, in 2020, the onslaught of COVID-19 pandemic coupled with broad global conflict exacerbated national division. In describing her course of action amidst the pandemic, Wong explains, “People had very strong opinions about every decision being made. But, I feel positively on how well we did work together. I learned a lot about how one’s emotional response to a challenge such as the pandemic can vary so much among members of a community and worked hard to not ignore but be respectful of these differences. ”

Grappling with the outyears of the school-wide trauma proved a momentous task, yet Wong gained plentiful experience and developed a keen sense of emotional intelligence.”

Despite the obstacles, Ms. Wong has implemented positive changes that continue to shape our community. Specifically, she added Cultivating Community to the  L-S core values. From Wong’s perspective, “Everything we do should be value-based,” and she hopes that her work to build understanding surrounding diverse communities will reinforce unity at L-S. Moreover, Wong was a force behind the  launch of the Global Scholars Program. With the scholars, “My hope was to create a way for people to build a perspective that would encourage them to create solutions for global dilemmas.” Wong’s global mindset is further reflected in her expansion of international traveling and the availability of Mandarin classes at L-S.

Her priority over the last decade has been two-fold. First, to ensure a broader range of student needs were being met through district programming.  Four programs were added:  LSA, Beacon, Partners, and Academic Support and General Intervention.  Second, to assure students leaving LS are best prepared to face whatever they might face in  an ever changing global community.  These intentions are best embodied in the Portrait of an LS Graduate and the 5-year Strategic Plan developed to realize that comprehensive vision for all students

By and large, Wong is grateful for her time at L-S and content to leave behind strong infrastructure and faculty. She appreciates L-S’ potential to improve and grow over the years and believes graduating students leave feeling “natural doing good.” At the core of Wong’s work, she hopes “to find ways to prepare students to find ways to peace, unity, and togetherness.”