Opinion

School Board sets agenda, priorities for future

Lisa Strauch-Eggers

As we look forward to a new year, we welcome Adair Dingle and John DeVleming as new School Board members, and bid a very fond farewell to outgoing members John Fry and Carrie George. We as a community owe John and Carrie an enormous debt of gratitude for their generosity of time, spirit and wisdom during four eventful years of volunteer public service.

Although the faces may change our board's commitment to Mercer Island's children remains. What are our guiding principles? A commitment to excellence, and to opportunities for educational attainment and personal development at all levels for all students. These are not mere platitudes; their purpose is embedded in our board's governing policies and our goals for Superintendent Simms for this year.

One of the boards' primary goals for the Superintendent is the completion of an International Baccalaureate and Honors study at the high school. We want to ensure that our students enjoy the same opportunities for advanced classes as their peers at benchmark high schools around the country. The board was unanimous in its desire to launch this study, based on our belief that all students should have access to courses that stretch them academically, and that the vast majority of our students will benefit from additional course offerings.

The development of another academic priority was founded partly on the strength of the district's movements in the area of personal development. Bridges is in its first year as a program, not a pilot, the middle school instituted Building a Spirit of Community, and the elementary schools all have programs addressing bullying, harassment and other social issues. Crest has a new dedicated administrator, Mark Roschy, as we strive to continue serving students with different learning needs.

Another priority concerns the development of indicators. The board has established ``Ends''or goals for the attributes we wish for our students. These goals are academic and personal. Some are measured easily, such as showing continual progress in academic areas. Others involving personal development and citizenship are harder to measure. Recognizing the limitations of the term measurement we use the word indicators, to include qualitative concepts into account. We have tools, like WASL, SAT and ACT scores at our disposal. The board is working with the Superintendent and our curriculum and assessment experts to determine what testing we need to add to ensure that children are making progress in academic areas and making strides in the personal development areas our Ends policies contemplate. We recognize that this is a sensitive topic and are committed to developing our knowledge and understanding prior to making any decisions.

We continue to struggle with the perennial problem of inadequate funding for education. The legal dictates of No Child Left Behind and Washington State graduation requirements (passing the 10th grade WASL and completing a culminating project beginning with the class of 2008) further strain our resources.

We have a legal and moral duty to meet the needs of struggling students, and we are truly fortunate in our community that those students comprise a small minority of our whole, but we are left with the dilemma of how to deploy sufficient resources to meet the needs of the other 85 to 90percent of our population.

In the midst of these challenges we need to celebrate our successes. We welcome wonderful new additions to our already strong administrative team. Gary Plano will be John Cameron's successor as Associate Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction. We have a terrific quartet at the high school, with John Harrison, Michael Schiehser and Mark Roschy joining Craig Olson, and our middle school is strong, too, with the addition of Aaron Miller as a Vice Principal. Our kids benefit from safe schools, a supportive community, and a stable cadre of superior teachers. We will continue to embrace change as a way of life, and prepare our children for whatever their future holds.

Lisa Strauch Eggers is the president of the Board of Directors of the Mercer Island School District.

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