MIHS continues striding toward personalized learning

The Mercer Island School District has set a goal to strive for personalized learning. As directed under state law, each school has created a School Improvement Plan, which in the case of the high school, focuses on working toward the district goal.

To achieve their goal, the high school administrative team has said they will focus on providing professional development for faculty, create technology standards, become a more environmentally aware school, and in a very specific example, work to help special education students raise their High School Proficiency Exam scores.

“It’s a template of what we’d like to become,” said Mercer Island High School principal John Harrison.

One of the biggest areas of change for the school over the last several years has been the increased interest and awareness of professional development. Harrison said years ago it was the administrative team pushing for conferences and seminars, but now teachers and staff have taken it in their own hands and created new ideas. Recently, the staff took a survey to determine the professional learning needs. Of the 60 who took the survey, 43 said personalized learning was a major goal, with differentiated instruction and assessment listed by 41 staff members. Harrison said many teachers said that observing their fellow teachers in action would be a great option for professional development.

The district and high school are also keeping a close eye on test scores, specifically the math scores for special education students. Only 27 percent of those students met the HSPE math standard last spring. It’s concerning for the district because as the Adequate Yearly Progress standards continue to jump up each year, without addressing the issue early, the district could fall behind and not meet standard in coming years.

“We chose this group (to look at) because of AYP,” said Superintendent Gary Plano. “This will be a problem area for us if we continue to do what we’ve done.”

The group is approximately 37 students at the high school, but the district hopes by creating an early intervention and helping them, those effects can later be expanded to other student subgroups.

Technology is another area which MIHS feels it can tap into to help create a personalized environment.

“The TOSA’s (teacher on special assignment) are being used more, and we’ve really seen that over the first couple of years,” said Harrison. “What we haven’t done is look at what we want the kids to know and what we want them to be able to do.”

Jennifer Wright, the executive director of learning and technology services, said for high school kids it is less about teaching operations, because most know how to use the programs, but using it to think critically.

The school’s SIP is updated once a year, typically during the spring and summer by each school in the district. To see a copy of any of them, visit the district’s Web site at

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