Steve Dispensa, Chair – Board of Trustees, French American School of Puget Sound

In 1994, a group of dedicated educators and Francophiles, including Patricia Blaise-Caves, Véronique Dussud, Connie Collingsworth, Josette Gregoire, and Misa Bourdoiseau, shared a common vision: establishing a French American school in the Pacific Northwest. Fast forward to the fall of 1995, and the French American School of Puget Sound (FASPS) welcomed its first 13 students with open doors in the basement of a church in Newcastle, just east of Mercer Island. Since then, FASPS has been a trailblazer, providing a distinctive bilingual learning experience that seamlessly combines the strengths of both the French and American educational systems.

Steve Dispensa, a dedicated advocate for FASPS, has served on the Board of Trustees for seven years, with three of his children having been students at the school. Having relocated to the Pacific Northwest in 2013 from Kansas City, Steve found immense value in the multicultural and bilingual environment FASPS offers. His personal connection as a parent translated into active involvement, explaining, “I grew up only speaking English, and I know firsthand how hard it is to learn a second language as an adult. When we had the chance to send our children to a bilingual, multicultural school, we jumped at it.”

Steve’s journey with FASPS began as a parent, witnessing the school’s impact on each of his children, currently spanning from middle school to high school. Reflecting on their educational journey, he remarks, “Watching my high schoolers succeed at a competitive school makes me realize just how great their education was at FASPS – in math, science, English, Spanish, and, of course, French.”

Beyond his role as a parent, Steve has been deeply committed to FASPS as the Chair of the Board of Trustees since 2019. Even with a demanding role as the Corporate Vice President at Microsoft in the division of Enterprise Management and Windows Commercial, he actively participates in FASPS’s governance. Steve finds parallels between his work at Microsoft and his role at FASPS, particularly in the emphasis on diversity and inclusion.

“While Microsoft and FASPS may seem different in scale and nature, there are important similarities,” Steve notes. His experience in promoting diversity and inclusion at Microsoft directly influences his contributions to FASPS, where the Board of Trustees maintains a standing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) committee.

Steve values the support he receives from his colleagues in both settings. He commends Eric Thuau, the Head of School at FASPS, for leading a highly capable organization, and he appreciates the insights and resourcefulness of his fellow Trustees. Microsoft’s commitment to community engagement aligns with Steve’s passion for FASPS, as the company provides financial support for organizations for which its employees volunteer.

Charting a Course for Growth

Steve’s journey at FASPS began with a captivating involvement in the finance committee, an experience he found both interesting and fulfilling. Reflecting on this early engagement, Steve emphasizes, “There’s no better way to become intimately familiar with a school’s operations than through the finance committee. I also got exposed to some of the talented people who I would eventually get to serve with on the Board. Once I joined the Board, I found more and more ways to get involved.”

As the Chair of the Board, Steve wears many hats and finds the Real Estate Committee particularly intriguing. Negotiating the complex real estate market in the Pacific Northwest has been a challenging yet rewarding experience. Steve reflects on the twists and turns in the journey to secure a permanent home for FASPS, stating, “Now that we have purchased land, our attention has turned to designing and building a school we will all be proud of. I am more excited than ever to see the day when the doors open at our new campus!”

Recent achievements include wrapping up the school’s latest five-year strategic plan, marking an exciting turning point for FASPS. Steve expresses his enthusiasm for the future, sharing, “We are at an inflection point, moving from a single-campus institution to a multi-campus institution and into a new facility we will design, build, and own. This growth will enable us to reach a larger number of students throughout the Seattle metro area, and it opens up exciting new possibilities for us, including the potential of a high school program in the future.”

FASPS has expanded its reach to Factoria, offering a fresh opportunity for parents on the East side of the metro area to engage with FASPS. This expansion also allows for the growth of the program, particularly serving a greater number of the youngest students. Steve highlights the importance of starting French immersion early and expresses excitement about the expanded capacity at the Factoria location. He states, “Our Mercer Island location is full, and we have even moved as much administrative office space to an adjacent commercial building to make the maximum amount of space for students. But our next major growth opportunity is the new building we are constructing on the land we purchased last year.”

Empowering Diversity and Tech Excellence

FASPS truly stands out as a melting pot of cultures, boasting a vibrant community that encompasses over 50 nationalities and numerous spoken languages. This rich diversity serves as the school’s greatest strength, aligning seamlessly with its overarching mission. Throughout the program, students are not just educated; they are given opportunities to celebrate and share their unique cultural identities. The advantage of small class sizes becomes evident as students forge deep connections with one another, gaining profound experiences with different cultures and backgrounds.

Steve, acknowledging the significance of this diversity, affirms, “It is a key mission of the Board to support and maintain the rich diversity of the FASPS community, and the Board’s DEI committee ensures that our values are reflected throughout the program, from Board and committee membership to Tuition Assistance, the FASPS’ Cultural Agility Fund, and more.”

Beyond its cultural richness, FASPS has always been at the forefront of technology integration. This forward-thinking approach paid off notably during the pandemic, when the school swiftly transitioned to distance learning within days of closing its facilities in March 2020. Steve emphasizes the importance of technology in the student’s learning experience, stating, “Indeed, our kids use the same technology to learn as I do to do my day job.”

Looking ahead, Steve is optimistic about the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on education and acknowledges FASPS’s strategic position to harness its benefits. As a school with strong ties to the Seattle tech community, led by IT Director Brian Hoyt, a prominent figure in edu-tech, FASPS is well-prepared to navigate future technological advancements. Steve says, “So I’m confident we will continue to take advantage of technology changes as they emerge – of course, in the context of the well-rounded education and emphasis on cultural agility that our school is founded on.”

Cultivating Minds and Bridging Cultures

The benefits of bilingual education, a cornerstone of FASPS’s approach, have been extensively studied and proven over the years. Steve underscores the transformative difference between knowing one language and knowing two, highlighting that it extends beyond linguistic proficiency to instill a profound understanding that there are multiple valid ways to approach challenges. Even at the earliest stages, students at FASPS begin to grasp the concept of multiple cultures existing in the world.

On a more tangible level, bilingual students at FASPS exhibit larger vocabularies and a keen sense of etymology. Steve shares an insightful perspective, stating, “Our school offers a third language in middle school, and many of our students who take three years of Spanish go directly into honors-level Spanish 4 classes in high school – and they often find those classes too easy.” This intellectual advantage extends to other subjects, including math, where middle schoolers navigate parallel tracks in US Math and French Math, equipping them with diverse problem-solving approaches and a head start upon entering high school.

Looking to the future, Steve expresses his hope for FASPS to continue delivering on its mission to an expanding student body. He envisions growth that reaches new constituencies, solidifying the school’s position as a premier multicultural, multilingual educational institution. Steve’s pride in the FASPS community is palpable, especially during graduation ceremonies. He reflects on the graduates, each carrying the values and cultural agility acquired at FASPS into high school and beyond, ready to make a meaningful impact on the world.

Steve is incredibly honored and grateful to be a part of the exceptional community at FASPS. As a parent, he is immensely thankful for the positive impact the school has had on his children. As a Trustee, he is excited about the future and all the possibilities it holds.

Today, FASPS embodies unity in diversity, empowering students not only to learn but to thrive in every classroom and interaction. As the school moves forward into new horizons, its legacy of bilingual excellence, cultural richness, and technological foresight will continue to shape future generations. FASPS is not just about education; it’s a journey, a celebration, and a testament to the extraordinary fusion of cultures that make it the French American School of Puget Sound.

For More Info:

Content Disclaimer

Related Articles