School briefs | NCLB waiver, Islander wins NASP scholarship

MI Schools Foundation halfway to spring fundraising goal

The Mercer Island Schools Foundation (MISF) announced Friday, May 9 that the organization is halfway to the spring “Bridge the Gap” fundraising goal of $1.2 million to fund teachers at all five Mercer Island schools.

In his “Bridge to the Future” keynote speech at the 2014 Breakfast of Champions, Mercer Island School District Superintendent Dr. Gary Plano said, “Even though Washington is ranked 41st in the country in per-pupil spending, your continued support through the Schools Foundation allows us to leverage our operating budget to enrich the educational programs offered to our students and to our staff.”

After the Breakfast of Champions, the PTAs at each school hosted multiple fundraisers including the Lakeridge Elementary Pancake Breakfast and Kiss the Pig at Islander Middle School, with the Bridge the Gap campaign raising $615,023 through donations from the Mercer Island community from those events. Most recently at the Island Park Elementary Pancake Breakfast, parents and students were given the opportunity to see staff members eat insects and arachnids like fried worms, tarantulas and a scorpion – prepared by professionals, of course.

“We’re so thankful for the response from the Mercer Island community and have had a great time at the most recent events following the Breakfast of Champions,” said MISF Executive Director Penny Yantis. “I’m confident that this community is up to the challenge of getting us the rest of the way to $1.2 million to support all students, but it’s going to take everyone’s participation and everyone digging deep.”

The MISF serves as the catalyst to connect the resources of the community to the identified academic needs of our Mercer Island public schools. The foundation works in collaboration with the school district and its teaching professionals to insure that programs funded have a high priority, broad utilization and a substantially equal distribution among all Mercer Island public schools.

To learn more about the MISF, visit To watch the 2014 Breakfast of Champions keynote speech, go to

Minimal impact expected from loss of NCLB waiver

By Joseph Livarchik

With the U.S. Department of Education revoking Washington state’s waiver from No Child Left Behind requirements Thursday, April 24, Washington became the first state to lose its NCLB waiver, meaning school districts in Washington will lose flexibility in the use of nearly $40 million in Title I funds that go toward low-income students.

Fortunately for the Mercer Island School District, there won’t be a lot of a financial hit, as the district doesn’t get much Title 1 money. Of the district’s $40 million budget, $93,000 comes through Title 1, with up to $18,000 set aside due to the loss of the waiver.

“Thanks to the community, it’s a small impact situation,” said public information officer Randy Bolerjack, mentioning contributions from Mercer Island Schools Foundation and PTAs of over $2 million last year. “That money helps out. We have the flexibility to manage the situation rather than instantly cut staff.”

“It’ll take time to understand the precise impact, but it will be minimal. Other school districts throughout the state won’t be able to say the same thing.”

Typically, the Title 1 money Mercer Island receives is spent on teachers and para-educators, like teacher assistants. Bolerjack said the district won’t know for another month what will happen with that money.

“We don’t know if we have to hold on to it until end of next school year or until a midway point after the first semester ends next year, when we can put it back into enrichment programs,” he said. “We don’t have the freedom to spend it on those programs right away. There’ll be a special way to access that and we don’t know what that looks like yet.”

The larger impact of losing the federal waiver is the majority of the schools in Washington state will be listed as needing improvement or failing under NCLB requirements. Bolerjack said it remains to be seen if the district will go from needs improvement to failing immediately or if it will take a couple years.

“The scariest thing parents will see is that Mercer Island schools or the school district is failing, when it isn’t a failure of schools, but a failure of state legislature,” he said. “It’s really the state legislature that caused the Mercer Island School District to be declared a failing school district.”

Dean Mack, executive director of business services at Mercer Island School District, said as one of the top three districts in Washington state, it doesn’t make sense seeing any of Mercer Island schools as failing.

“The way No Child Left Behind is set up, eventually every school in the nation is failing,” said Mack. “Success is measured at 100 percent. If you have a class of 30 kids, are all of them at 100 percent? All it’s done is set itself up for failure.”

Islander earns National Achievement Scholarship, Gates Millennium Scholar

After being a National Achievement Scholarship Program (NASP) semifinalist last fall, Mercer Island High School senior Mark Anderson was one of 700 National Achieve Program Finalists to receive a $2500 National Achievement Scholarship award. The scholarship serves as an award recognizing outstanding Black American high school students.

The National Achievement Scholarship wasn’t his first award this year. Anderson was also selected as one of the 1,000 Gates Millennium Scholars for the GMS Class of 2014. Over 52,000 students applied to the Gates Millennium Scholarship program, which offers a good-through-graduation scholarship, with an amount based on financial need as well as the cost of tuition, fees, books and living expenses, to use at any college or university of the scholar’s choice.

After graduating from Mercer Island High School in June, Anderson will be attending Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.


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