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Who I Am
Who I Am

Education is my passion - I firmly believe a high quality school system is the single greatest responsibility our community holds for our youth. How well we prepare students directly impacts the level of choice they will have in their futures, from college to career. In turn, this impacts the health of our community as a whole. Through my experience as a public school Teacher, Principal, Administrator, Board Member, Advisor to Principals and Superintendents/CEOs - and most importantly Parent - I have developed a deep understanding of what it takes to operate schools and districts with quality during changing times. I am committed to putting that knowledge to work in service of our students, their families, and our community.

From my early days as a teacher in Southeastern Washington, to my decade spent building and leading the award-winning Lighthouse K-12 school district in the inner city of Oakland, to my last six years coaching Principals and supporting schools and small school districts in their innovation and accountability from my home here in Bend, I have held a singular focus: how can our schools and systems develop the knowledge, skills, and mindsets that truly provide students with "choice filled" lives. I have spent the majority of my career working with students and families furthest from opportunity - a skill set I believe can benefit Bend LaPine.

Central Oregon has been an important part of my life since age 18 - but I am unapologetically a full-time transplant into our wonderful community since 2013. I first fell in love with Bend in 1987, as part of a Freshmen expedition prior to starting Whitman College. I shared this love for our region with my family, who have lived here since 1994. I believe my paired perspective is what our rapidly changing community needs - a historical knowledge of our economy, community, and demographics, as well as the understanding and perspective of those who continue to enter and what the future may hold.

I am a proud parent of two BLPS children, with a son entering 5th grade at High Lakes and daughter entering 11th grade at Summit High School (and attended REALMS for 6-8 and Lighthouse for K-5). I served on the School Site Council at High Lakes and have volunteered in various capacities at each of their schools. I am an experienced Public Non-Profit Board Member, serving on the Boards of Cascade School of Music in Bend (1000+ instrumental and voice lesson students), Lighthouse Community Public Schools in East Oakland (1500+ K-12 students), and OnePurpose School in San Francisco's Bayview (~150 preK - 5th grade students in an intensive trauma-informed setting).

I earned my BA and Teaching Credential at Whitman College in 1991; my MA from University of Oregon in 1998, where I held a Teaching Fellowship in the College of Education; and was a New Leaders for New Schools Fellow in 2002. 

What I Believe
What I Believe
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As a seasoned educator and Board Member, I hold the following priorities for BLPS:

  • Agency - Students must develop the knowledge, skills and mindsets that prepare them to have choice in college, career, and their futures. This best occurs when the focus is held across academic, socio-emotional, and behavioral dimensions - from a mastery of state and national standards, to development of 21st century mindsets and skills, to the ability to make strong choices and be in community with others.  To be successful, families must be engaged as partners in this process and teachers, administrators, and staff must be empowered as professionals and change agents. We must meet each individual where s/he is on the path toward our common goal, and hold a focus on growth that helps all of us get better, together. 

  • Belonging - We achieve our best results when all stakeholders are known well, feel included, and are appreciated for the diverse assets they bring to our community. Students learn best when they feel the adults around them truly care about them and their success - the  same applies to adults. The culture of our school system must appreciate the assets of the individuals within it, celebrate this diversity, and support all in developing a positive self-identity. 

  • Equity - Our school system must ensure that ALL students succeed and thrive - this explicitly includes those who are furthest from opportunity, including our students who are from low-income families, who are learning English as a second language, who have special needs, and who live in foster or kinship care. Eradicating the current achievement gap will take hard work, commitment, and tough choices - all of which our most vulnerable youth deserve. 

  • Organizational and Fiscal Strength - A high quality school system is the single greatest responsibility our community holds for our youth. Ensuring strong financial planning, rooted in sound fiscal policies and the maintenance of a healthy reserve, are paramount and will enable our district to weather future periods of economic uncertainty. Our chief executive must be empowered and provided with thought partnership, while also given strong oversight in alignment with the mission, adopted policies, and executive limitations.

My Experience


Founder and  Executive Director, MBD Partners. Support new and existing public pre-K-12 schools and small districts in the areas of school program design, goal setting and monitoring, and performance reporting, with a focus on increasing opportunities and outcomes for students, particularly those who are educationally underserved. Secure state and federal grants to support implementation, replication, and dissemination of best practices.



  • Co-Director, Lighthouse Community Public Schools, 2003 - 13. Joined  founders in year two to grow an exemplary, urban charter school network now serving over 1500 students in East Oakland. Raised the school’s statewide similar school’s rating increased from 4 to 10 out of 10 over tenure, in turn earning the California Charter School of the Year award in 2013. Instrumental in two federal grant programs: a Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grant to develop new models of employee development and evaluation and an Investing in Innovation (i3) grant to develop a comprehensive Response to Intervention (RTI) program.

  • Content Producer, Canter & Associates and Walden University, 1999-2002. Developed an online Masters Degree program in education, in partnership with leading experts and master teachers on a national basis.

  • Teacher, National Experimental High School, Taiwan (a K-12 public bi-lingual school), 1994-96. Taught 4th, 6th, and 7th grade Humanities.

  • Teacher, Washington State Public Schools, 1992-94. Taught  6th grade Language Arts and 11th and 12th Grade Social Studies.



  • New Leaders for New Schools, Fellowship and Administrative Coursework, 2002.

  • University of Oregon, Master’s Degree and Fellowship in College of Education, 1998.

  • Whitman College, Bachelor’s Degree and Teaching Credential, 1991.



  • School Site Council, High Lakes Elementary School: Member 2017 - 2019.

  • Cascade School of Music, Board of Directors: 2014-18 President, 2018-Present Secretary.

  • Lighthouse Community Public Schools, Board of Directors: Member 2015-Present, Academic Accountability Chair, 2018-Present. [Co-Director (direct report to Board) 2003-13].

  • OnePurpose School, Board of Directors: Founding Member 2014-Present, Programs Committee Chair, 2015-Present. 

  • New Leaders for New Schools, Bay Area Advisory Board.

My Experience



The Bend Bulletin

"Melissa (Barnes) Dholakia offers qualifications and qualities that cannot be matched by her opponents...It’s Dholakia’s stronger vision for the Bend-La Pine district that makes her the standout candidate...She can help the district transition to one that makes all students feel welcome and well served."

The Vocal Seniority

"We were impressed with Melissa’s credentials and experience. But it was our interview with her that made it abundantly clear: Melissa is rock solid, and will be a stellar addition to the Bend-La Pine School Board."

Individual Supporters

( * = current parent of a 0-18 year-old in Bend La Pine)

Luann Abrams, Partner, FoundersPad*・Matt Abrams, General Partner, Seven Peaks VenturesPamela Armstrong, Business Owner, Pamela Armstrong Design・Cari Baldwin, Serial Entrepreneur*・Steve Barham, co-Founder Riff Cold Brewed・Christine & Jerald Barnes, Proud Parents・Sarah Waybright Barr, Design Studio Director, G5*・Kelsi Beck, Redmond SD Teacher*・Kyle Buehner, CEO・Navis Mary Margaret Blackmarr, Teacher Resident*・Steve Blackmarr, US Marine Corp (Retired)*・ Loie Boero, Former PTO President and Community Volunteer・ Molly Cogswell-Kelley, Events Director, MBSEF*・Karen Craven, Psychotherapist*・Chad Davis, Head of Human Resources, Lonza*・Karri Davis, Teacher, Redmond SD*・David Dobkin, Conservation Scientist・Donna Dobkin, Clinical Social Worker・Scott Douglass, Board Vice Chair, Boys & Girls Club of Bend*・Jamie Dunn Goldman, President, High Lakes PTO*・C.J. Ferrari, Business Owner, Miller Ferrari Wealth Management*・Lori Fletcher, Strategic Territory Manager, Bausch + Lomb Surgical・Michael Funke, Community Activist・Patti GarskeKip Gladder, Principal (Retired)・ Bev Gladder, Deputy Superintendent (Retired)・ Annie Golder, Business Owner, Hillside Bed & Breakfast・Geoff Gruetzmacher, IAFF Firefighter/EMT and Veteran Air Force Linguist/Intelligence*・Lindsay Gruetzmacher, Daycare Owner*・Gail Hanna, Volunteer, CASA and Planned Parenthood*・Gregg Heacock, Selection Committee, Oregon Battle of the Books・Mark Henderson, Olympic Gold Medalist, Swimming*・Tamara Henderson*・Chris Horner, Professional Cyclist*・Megan Horner, Partner, Brinich & Bertalan, LLP*・Meagan Iverson, Production Manager, Sunriver Music Festival・Meshem Jackson, Teacher, Cascade School of Music・Jen Jennings, co-Founder, Embrace Bend*・Eileen Kiely, 2018 HD 53 Candidate・Julie Kizer-Littleton, Business Owner, Zante*・Robert Lambeth, Executive Director, Cascade School of Music・Michael Lena, Athletic Director, Athletic Club of Bend・Doug McDonald, Summit High Teacher*・Rob McDonald, Business Owner, Stand on Liquid*・Kenneth J. Patchett*・Megan Perkins, co-Founder, Embrace Bend*・Kelly Jacquis Pofahl, Writing Instructor, COCC*・Bradley Scott, Physician Assistant, St. Charles*・Kirsten Scott, Optometrist, Integrated Eyecare*・Dillon Schneider, Founder, Cascade School of Music*・Mark Smith, CEO, Ventana Research*・Sid Snyder, Community Activist・Jenna Lamb Swiggert, Business Owner, Washington and Drake Restaurants*・Lis Thomas, Board Member, Bend Education Foundation*・Louann Thomas, Board Member, Cascade School of Music・Joel Thomas, Principal Broker, Compass Commercial*・Josh Wilhite, Business Owner, Copperline Homes*・Jane Williamson, Business Owner, Jane Williamson Real EstateKathryn Poulsen Wood, Teacher (Retired)

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