School briefs: School closure draws criticism

School closure draws criticism

The parents of some Mercer Island School District students are criticizing the administrative decision to close school on Feb. 26 due to early morning snow. The district will be adding two days to the end of the school year to make up for missed school due to snowy weather this winter. The district is also keeping school open on Friday, March 13, and Friday, May 22, as snow make-up days.

Robert Thorpe, a parent, told School Board members that he was grateful for their service, but felt that the closure was unnecessary, especially since most of the snow was gone by the time school would have started. He said his concern is for families in which both parents work, or adults in single-parent families who cannot afford to miss work during these tough economic times.

“This is a bigger picture thing,” he said. “I think closing down schools today was a mistake. I think you guys need to toughen up. If I’ve offended you, I’m sorry. Let’s revisit this school closure thing.”

Superintendent Gary Plano said that the decision was made based on the best information that the district had first thing in the morning. After seeing the snow and forecasts, Plano said that he had originally decided to delay school for two hours, around 5:30 a.m., Thursday morning, similar to other districts in the area. Around 7 a.m., he said the snow began to fall and accumulated quickly, with between four to six inches on the ground around the high school. Many roads vital to bus transportation on the Island were being closed, he said, with drivers reporting bad conditions getting to work and even worse roads on the Island. Shortly after 7:40 a.m., the decision to close was made, according to a district press release. Todd Kelsay, director of transportation, told Plano that he was concerned that bus drivers could not safely transport students.

“In retrospect, if I was clairvoyant and could have seen that the temperature would warm up in another hour, I would have stuck with the original plan,” said Plano.

The district also closed school for several days during December following record snowfalls which wreaked havoc on the greater Seattle area.

OSPI cancels freshman WASL testing

Nineteen Mercer Island High School freshmen thought that taking the WASL this year would be good practice. If they passed the test, one graduation requirement would be filled. If not, they still had next year.

Those students will now have to wait and take the new High School Proficiency Exam next year, since the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) decided not to allow ninth-graders to take the WASL this spring because of budget shortfalls.

Following the registration deadline on Jan. 13, OSPI learned that it would cost $477,000 of unfunded OSPI money to order, administer and score the freshman tests.

“In the past, OSPI has been able to financially support optional testing for ninth-graders because the number was fairly small,” said State Superintendent Randy Dorn. “Now, the costs have grown significantly at the same time that an economic crisis is forcing our agency to cut optional programs and activities. This also supports moving forward with online testing because we would no longer have to print more than a million test booklets each year.”

According to OSPI, 35,000 ninth-graders from around the state signed up to take the optional test this year, double the number from 2008.

Michael Schiehser, the director of instruction and assessment for the Mercer Island School District, said most of the students who signed up to take the freshman WASL were doing so because they wanted to, not because it was needed for intervention purposes.

Schiehser said for students who need extra help, the district offers the MAPS test, which he said is a good predictor of how students will do on the WASL.

Sixth annual Breakfast of Champions

The Mercer Island Schools Foundation (MISF) announced today that its sixth annual Breakfast of Champions will take place on April 28 at Mercer Island High School.

“The Mercer Island Schools Foundation is paramount in our ability to achieve our aggressive 2020 vision,” said Dr. Gary Plano, MISD Schools Superintendent. “The money raised by the foundation helps us provide the best possible education to all our students while focusing on our vision: successfully preparing students for the cognitive, global and digital world.”

Over 500 people are expected to attend the breakfast fundraiser. To achieve its goals, the foundation offers businesses great community exposure for sponsorship support.

In addition, the foundation’s angel-matching program allows generous donors to match gifts made during the breakfast event. Donors can be named or anonymous. As of press time, seven “angels” have stepped forward on the way to the foundation’s goal of 15.

“Business sponsors, ‘angels,’ table captains and attendees are key to meet the aggressive goals set by the foundation and the school district, especially in this year of school financial uncertainty,” said Denise Hopkins, co-president of the MISF board. “And we continue to be delighted to give 10 percent of the funds raised to a school in Seattle where funds are exceedingly difficult to raise.”

Funds raised will be used for attracting and retaining excellent teachers; providing tremendous training and development opportunities, including national board certification; and promoting key core and elective class support for students in all grades and schools.

“Our theme is ‘Now More Than Ever,’” said Penny Yantis, MISF executive director. “This year, we are faced with significant cuts to the school budget from Olympia. We are looking to community and business leaders to provide the much-needed funding to keep our schools marching toward the vision of the district.”

The foundation is actively seeking business sponsors, ‘angels’ and table captains. Up-to-date information can be found at

For more information about the Mercer Island Schools Foundation or to make a donation, please visit or call MISF at (206) 275-2550.

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