Focus on education for 2020 changes leaders

During its summer retreat last week, the Mercer Island School Board designed a new path for the Really Big Idea Committee (RBIC) in preparation for the next phase of achieving its 2020 Vision. The School Board will henceforth relinquish responsibility for the project, passing the reins on to Superintendent Gary Plano, who will continue to define the 2020 Vision with the RBIC.

“The School Board has turned this work over to me. The Really Big Idea is now in my hands,” Plano said.

The decision was made after the School Board, Plano and his administrative team reviewed their student “Ends” and the proposed 2020 Vision, discussing — in depth — how to proceed with the Really Big Idea, which has been in the works for more than a year now.

The general consensus was that the School Board should focus on governing its defined student “Ends” — principles that ensure academic achievement, personal development and citizenship — while the role of meeting these ends through a Really Big Idea should be passed on to the superintendent.

“The board has accepted the 2020 Vision but realized that it wasn’t really their work,” Plano said.

Instead, the board will step back from the project and resume its role as a governing body. Consequently, the RBIC will no longer work under the School Board’s umbrella but as a separate body under the superintendent’s authority.

Plano’s primary responsibility, with help from the RBIC — which is divided into three sub-committees: the leadership committee; the visioning committee; and the finance committee — is to come up with a “concrete idea” to finance for the 2009-2010 school year.

“I’ll work on creating a 2020 Vision in conjunction with teachers, my administrative team, the community — it can’t be me doing it in isolation. It has to be a shared vision,” Plano said.

Meanwhile, the School Board will resume its primary role of ensuring that all student “Ends” are met.

It was agreed that Plano would put the discussed plan into a written resolution, which he will present to the School Board for approval at its Aug. 7 meeting. The superintendent has already debriefed the RBI leadership committee, as well as Schools Foundation President Prady Misra, on the board’s new plan. Members of the committee were not available to comment by press time.

The RBIC is the brainchild of the Schools Foundation. In the spring of 2007, the Foundation approached the School Board and proposed a “Really Big Idea” — one that would bring the School District to the next level of excellence — to fuel future fundraising campaigns. The Board accepted the proposal and in November 2007 amended its governance policies to include the RBIC within its arena. Since then, the three RBI sub-committees —- made up of School Board and Schools Foundation representatives, teachers, district administrators, parents and members of the city and community —- have spent hours developing a roadmap for the RBI and, ultimately, a 2020 Vision.

A draft of this vision was discussed at last Wednesday’s School Board retreat. Although there was some disagreement over the language of the document, in general, members supported “the essence of the vision,” which, as Lisa Strauch-Eggers pointed out, “states our mission in a less succinct but more exciting way.”

Plano’s role as the future leader of the RBIC will be to define the 2020 Vision. The superintendent said he likes much of what the draft, written by a member of the RBI Leadership Committee, currently includes.

As of July 30, the 2020 Vision reads as follows:

“To create an intensely personalized learning environment with a flexible, dynamic curriculum that inspires students to achieve ambitious, individual academic goals and prepares them to thrive and lead in the new, highly interconnected global and digital world.”

This statement is defined more precisely by seven sub-goals, including focus on the highest standards in math, science, reading and writing; lowering the student-teacher ratio; encouraging students to pursue passions beyond the traditional classroom environment; adjusting to 21st century thinking and technology; and developing a global awareness with focus on “real-world problems, issues, commonality and interdependence.”

School Board member John DeVleming voiced concern over the 2020 Vision’s proposal to reduce class size, saying that “it would eat up every penny.” He was also hesitant about accepting a vision based on creating an “intensely personalized learning environment,” explaining that this may scare away parents in the community who support a more traditional curriculum.

School Board President Pat Braman emphasized that the 2020 Vision should focus more on teachers and the crucial role that they play in shaping a student’s future. But overall, she supported the draft and its intent.

The School Board’s two-day summer retreat, held at the district administration building on July 22 and the Seattle Harbor Club on July 23, was open to the public, although only a handful of members attended. In addition to all five School Board members, Superintendent Plano, Associate Superintendent of Business Services Liz Dodd and Associate Superintendent of Instructional Services Kathy Morrison, two consultants were hired to attend the retreat and work with the board on improving self-governance.

This year, the consultants were Bob Hughes, a former school board member of the Lake Washington School District, and Rick Malloney, a current school board member of the University Place School District, located south of Tacoma. Both men are “experts in policy governance,” according to Plano, and provided input along with positive criticism during the retreat.

Discussion over the district’s 2020 Vision will resume at the School Board’s next regular meeting, set for Aug. 7 in the administration building. Plano will also present his written resolution on the RBIC at the meeting.

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