Opinion

School District’s 2020 Vision to define what students need now

Dr. Gary Plano
Island Forum

It’s a new year in the Mercer Island School District, and I am pleased and honored to be serving in the role of Superintendent — my first official year in this position. Your School Board and I are excited about the year ahead and eager to share the excitement we feel as we embark, once again, on this wonderful journey of educating students for the 21st century.

As always, operating a public school district is not without its challenges, but thanks to the hard of work of the Board, staff and community members last year, we have new ideas, new programs and a new vision which we are calling the 2020 Vision: Successfully preparing students for the cognitive, global and digital world.

This vision came out of the work of the Really Big Idea Committee, a group of teachers, parents, administrators and members of the Mercer Island Schools Foundation who spent countless hours together to define the skills and talents that students will need to successfully prepare for their future. I am looking forward to presenting the 2020 Vision to community groups throughout the district during the coming months.

Many of you may have heard that the district has experienced a budget shortfall of approximately $1.2 million from last year’s budget to this year’s budget due to several factors, including:

• A decline in resident student enrollment of 100 students or approximately $400,000;

• Projected escalations in fuel and other utility costs;

• Pension cost increases passed on to local school districts by the state, totaling approximately $600,000; and

• Cost-of-living salary and benefit increases to staff who are not fully funded by the state of Washington; these staff represent additional teachers, support staff and specialists who the district hires in addition to what the state funds.

To help with budget balancing for this year, I opened enrollment last spring to off-Island students in order to mitigate the number of students that we projected to lose this fall. Deeper cuts would have been necessary if open enrollment was not utilized. On average, class sizes do not show an increase over 2007-2008 class-size levels in elementary and middle school. Class size balancing is taking place at the high school. Budget reductions for this year have included reductions in administrative staff along with fewer classified hours being allocated to the buildings. On a brighter note, I was able to negotiate a competitive compensation package for district employees in order to retain and attract talented teachers, other certificated and classified support staff.

We have just completed our first week of classes, and everyone from our youngest kindergarten students to high school seniors is ready and eager to learn from the best and brightest teachers in the state.

During the high school’s ninth-grade orientation, BRIDGES co-leaders Jamie Prescott and Chris Twombley reminded the nearly 350 freshmen last week that there are three kinds of people out there: people who make things happen, people who watch, and those who don’t do anything at all. Thankfully, we on Mercer Island support our students in powerful learning communities as we successfully prepare them for the cognitive, digital and global world!

Dr. Gary Plano is the Mercer Island School District Superintendent.

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