On our way to a ‘2020 Vision’

I am pleased to welcome students, staff and the Mercer Island community back to another year of exceptional teaching and learning in the Mercer Island schools. From the youngest kindergartners who eagerly await their first day of school — to our seniors who are looking forward to their last year, I say, “Welcome to some of the most exciting learning opportunities that public schools have to offer.”

Mercer Island is fortunate to have the best teachers in the world, an extraordinary leadership team of principals, administrators and support staff all dedicated to ensuring that our students are prepared and inspired to embrace the challenges and opportunities presented to them, as we close this first decade of the 21st century.

Opportunities abound. This past year has been challenging for our educational community. In the spring, we faced a $2 million budget deficit due to reductions in state funding. We were forced to eliminate many teaching positions from our staffing model. However, our community stepped up to the plate!

Many of you participated in raising over $430,000 for the Mercer Island Schools Foundation and allowing us to restore cuts to key staffing positions — nearly six of them. Unfortunately, we are facing the same scenario in the spring of 2010 and are already taking steps to mitigate reductions by working closely with the Mercer Island Schools Foundation and our hard-working PTAs.

Mercer Island students lead the state on standardized test scores, but we’ve realized that’s not enough. Our schools should be preparing students for the future, so we’re evolving to teach our students how to think, collaborate and be creative and effective in this interconnected world. We’re keeping our standards high while connecting with students through a more personalized style of learning.

To that end, your School Board reframed the district’s 2020 Vision in July; our students will thrive in the cognitive, digital and global world while sustaining their passion and inspiration for learning. Discussion led to the identification of one goal: By August 2011, the Mercer Island School District will provide more personalized learning where student-centered education is responsive to students’ strengths and learning styles, interests, passions and affinities. I am grateful to the board for helping us focus our work on this singular goal.

There are many examples of personalized learning and 21st century teaching already going on in our district and this one goal will direct us to be more intentional about our work. My leadership team will begin discussions with staff on the meaning of what student-centered education looks like. Our school principals will be leading staff conversation around personalized learning, and how to harness the power of “passion and inspiration for learning.”

As we embark on a new learning journey, please join me in recognizing outstanding leadership from our school-based teams: John Harrison, principal, Craig Olson and Mark Roschy, associate principals, Mercer Island High School; Mary Jo Budzius, principal, and Aaron Miller, associate principal, Islander Middle School; elementary principals Rich Mellish, West Mercer; Nancy Loorem, Island Park and our newest principal, Fred Rundle, Lakeridge.

The synergy of our relationships, from parents, teachers and community, will help propel our students to attain passion and inspiration for lifelong learning. I’m proud to begin my third year serving as your superintendent.

Mercer Island Superintendent Dr. Gary Plano has been the superintendent of the school district since fall 2007. For more information on the 2009-10 school term and other issues regarding education, or to reach Dr. Plano, go to www.misd.k12.wa.us.

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