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Plano steps up as new superintendent

Gary Plano is the new superintendent of the Mercer Island School District. -
Gary Plano is the new superintendent of the Mercer Island School District.
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Elizabeth Celms
Mercer Island Reporter

Dr. Gary Plano is no longer an interim. After a resounding vote of confidence from the Mercer Island School Board, as well as teachers, parents and members of the community, Plano stands as the district’s new superintendent.

The life-long educator was welcomed into his new position at last week’s School Board meeting with tears and applause. Following individual monologues of approbation, all five members of the board voted overwhelmingly to hire Plano, who gratefully accepted.

“I am filled with excitement, anticipation and humility at being named superintendent of the Mercer Island School District,” he said. “This is a great honor and privilege to work in support of our students, staff and community at helping create a responsive and dynamic public school system to meet the needs of all learners.”

Those who attended the March 27 meeting reciprocated Plano’s sentiment, welcoming their new superintendent with standing applause.

School Board President Pat Braman spoke through tears. Her colleagues conveyed equal emotion with their words.

“Gary’s true leadership and ability to empower his subordinates, along with his intelligence and measured approach to issues was hard to beat ... not to mention his warmth and humor,” said Lisa Strauch Eggers.

Adair Dingle, after commending the quality of Plano’s competitors — Teresa Baldwin, superintendent of the Washougal School District in southwestern Washington and Dr. Richard Canfield, assistant superintendent for the Monroe School District in Fairfield County, Conn. — noted that Plano stood out in his “superb communication skills.”

“His ability to listen to different constituents and respond professionally and efficiently is matched by his curricular expertise,” she said. “In these two areas, Gary outshined the other two candidates.”

Plano begins his official duties as superintendent at once — a smooth continuum from where he left off as interim.

His most pressing task is to hire a permanent principal for West Mercer and Island Park elementary — positions currently being filled by interims Pat Blix and Nancy Loorem, respectively — and a new director of testing. The current director, Sharon Gillaspie, is retiring this year. Plano, who has been interviewing candidates, expects to announce the finalists at the April 10 School Board meeting.

The newly created Big Idea Committee is another priority on Plano’s agenda. The School Board has delegated this committee, made up of constituents from the district, private foundations, and the community, to develop an ambitious vision that will help Mercer Island students excel in the 21st century.

Plano is already brainstorming ideas for the committee. Most recently, he has invited Dr. Yong Zhao, director of the U.S.-China Center at Michigan State University, to speak to the group about “what new knowledge our students need in a global world.”

The revered academic will work one-on-one with the Really Big Idea Committee during his scheduled visit on May 13-14. He will also present a speech to members of the school district and community, Plano said.

Plano emphasized that he could not have succeeded in his position without the support of staff, students, parents and the community at large, for which he owes “a debt of gratitude.”

“They’ve supported me by cheerleading and helping pave a pathway for me to be successful,” he said. “Without this, a superintendent cannot do the job well. You can only affect change when people want you in that position.”

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