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Mercer Island School District's Dingle wants to get bond issue finished, announces reelection bid

After a bruising defeat of the bond measure designed to bring Mercer Island schools into a place for 21st century learning, School Board member Adair Dingle said she is determined to stay on the board to ensure that the next such measure — greatly revised and reduced in scope from the original measure — will pass.

Dingle said that she is dismayed that the initial $196 million proposal lost by such a large margin. She is concerned that the need for the new facilities is focused now simply on overcrowding.

Some of the impetus for the original bond has been lost, she said. “We were not focused just on the scale of what was needed for students, but on what kind of environment is needed now for learning.”

“It has become a kind of ‘one size fits all’ approach to facilities planning,” she said.

Dingle considered the first proposal presented to the voters as the optimal design. Now with the need to reduce the size of the bond in order to secure voter approval, the new design will solve overcrowding, but not have the best design for all of the other needs, she explained.

The school district hopes to have a new proposal, a $70 million bond, for voters in 2014.

“Size (overcrowding) was not a big issue in the original bond issue,” she said, noting that the board and other observers got into a long discussion about optimal size of an elementary school. The notion that smaller elementary schools were optimal, going from 600 to 500 students, she said, was an example of how the discussion veered away from what was really needed.

“Now with the move to include the smaller-sized schools, some of the economies of scale will be lost,” she observed.

She believes that most voters are not aware that the state timber sales, which paid for the schools in the past, are no longer there.

Those days are gone, she noted; citizens must pay more for their schools.

Dingle believes that the Island risks its status as being one of the top school districts in the state. She sees the school districts of Bellevue and Issaquah and even Seattle as pulling ahead of the Island. And it is not just in facilities, but in programs as well.

She cites the need to embrace the statewide science, technology engineering and mathematics (STEM) initiative as an example. Issaquah High School has a state-of-the-art material sciences program. There, students can try their hand at real work that combines all that STEM initiatives encourage.

“It is not a matter of just having more hours in the day to schedule more classes or increase lab time, she explained. Facilities must include science labs with the technology and tools to prepare students for 21st century jobs.

Dingle was first elected in 2005 to take the seat vacated by board member John Fry. When she took over, the major issues being discussed by the board were the establishment of the Bridges program, a peer advisory program at the high school. Parents and others were also concerned that there was not enough emphasis on Advanced Placement classes. The board also spent a great deal of time establishing governance standards for the board by then-superintendent, Cyndy Simms.

Dingle also indicated she wants to stay on the board to support the work by Superintendent Gary Plano in the area of helping teachers reach their highest potential through training and development. Again, she fears that the focus on facilities has turned attention away on having excellent teachers.

She applauds Plano for his management skills and ability to focus on other matters as well as the facilities plans.

The candidate holds a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Texas at Dallas, a M.S. in computer science from Northwestern University, and a B.S., cum laude, in mathematics from Duke University. She teaches at Seattle University, where she is a professor in computer science and engineering.

She is married to Thomas Hildebrandt, a computer consultant. They have four children who have attended school both in the district and in private schools.

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