BELLEVUE, Wash. — Dr. Kelly Aramaki knows Bellevue likely better than any other superintendent that's come before him.
His family's roots in this community run deep. He was born and raised in Bellevue and is a graduate of Newport High School. His father is a Sammamish High School grad and his grandfather graduated from Bellevue High School in 1931.
"He was on the basketball team, baseball team and he was part of senior class theatre," Aramaki said.
The Aramakis are one of the first Japanese-American families in Bellevue, starting with his great-grandfather who immigrated here in 1900.
"He ended up starting a farm under my grandparent's name because, at that time, people who were from Japan couldn't own land," said Aramaki.
His great-grandfather's farm was near Bel-Red Road and 124th Avenue Northeast. However, during World War II, the Aramakis had to abandon their farm and were forced into internment camps. They were first sent to Tule Lake in California and later transferred to Minidoka Internment Camp in Idaho.
"My grandfather didn't talk a whole lot about it," said Aramaki. "I think most of the Japanese Americans who came back after World War II didn't talk a lot about history. There's this sense of 'We're not going to talk about it, we're just going to keep our heads down and work hard.'"
Aramaki didn't learn about his family's imprisonment until he was getting his Master's in Education.
It's one of the reasons why he's so passionate about a curriculum that includes Bellevue's history.
"When we don't talk about the Japanese Americans when we teach about Bellevue history, then my family is completely erased from the history of Bellevue," said Aramaki.
As the first permanent Asian American Superintendent in the district, where 104 languages are spoken, Aramaki's goal is to allow students to feel their culture and heritage are honored.
"The diversity in Bellevue has changed a lot," said Aramaki. "We went from very few kids of color in Bellevue when I was even a student to we're now a minority-majority school district."
Aramaki is stepping into a role with a lot of challenges, like a budget shortfall forcing the consolidation of two elementary schools. The district will soon have a demographer look at enrollment numbers in the middle schools and decide if consolidation is also necessary to balance enrollment.
Another area of focus is on improving the well-being of students and staff. With an increasing number of teenagers dealing with mental health issues, prioritizing services and screening is a priority for Aramaki.
"I love this community and I love the district and I think it's so important for a superintendent to have deep care of the community in which they serve because the work is so hard," said Aramaki.
Aramaki, whose 23-year career in Education includes teaching and administration, says leading the district in his hometown is not only a dream come true, it's significant for his family.
"I do feel that going from Japanese internment to being superintendent is an amazing story for my family and for the Japanese-American community," said Aramaki.