Island Forum | MI Schools Foundation supports innovation

It’s the middle of October and our students and teachers are settling into the far from routine experiences of teaching and learning in the Mercer Island School District. There is nothing routine about our new K-5 math curriculum, the district’s 2020 Vision, Mission to Mars field trips, environmental learning gardens, Mercer Island High Schools Global Entrepreneurship study program or Islander Middle School’s “Rock Around Washington” history program for seventh-graders. Then there is our district’s outstanding Autism Spectrum program, Bridges at MIHS, music and the arts, the fact that we now have 20 National Board certified teachers and many more outstanding programs made possible by our community’s support of the Mercer Island Schools Foundation.

Last spring at the Foundation’s Breakfast of Champions, the students we heard from with their obvious “Passion for Learning and Inspiration for Life” reminded us why we love our jobs. Then we were awed by this community’s response to the state’s worst budget crisis in 30 years and MISD’s $2 million deficit this year and next. Thanks to your support, the district received $413,750 towards “budget restoration,” and we were able to retain 5.4 teachers, allowing us to reduce projected class size by nearly two students per class at the elementary schools and maintain class sizes at MIHS and IMS.

But now it’s fall again and parents have already been writing numerous checks to schools. Many wonder how the different funds are used and what impact they have on the quality of education in the Mercer Island School District. We are very fortunate to have extraordinary PTA involvement in our schools, and while each one is slightly different, they all share the common mission of providing enrichment support for schools. Art docents, field trips, school musicals, peer mediators programs, technology grants, fitness clubs and more are all made possible by checks written to the PTA.

Why support the Foundation if you have already written that check to your school? The answer is simple. We need both. While our state has made progress in education reform, standards-based teaching and learning, and the re-definition of basic education, Washington still ranks 43rd in the nation in education spending and this year’s budget crisis will only get worse in 2010. Without Foundation support, we could not update curriculum, even though national and state standards say we must. We could not provide musical instruments, technology, art supplies, leveled reading books, or a whole set of novels for ninth-grade English classes. Hands-on science, with all of its related equipment and supplies, would be impossible, as would critical training for teachers and National Board Certification support.

Teachers would not have the freedom to develop Vision 2020 ideas such as last year’s Congo project at MIHS, or the Voice Thread collaboration between first-graders and high school jewelry design students. There is no question that our classes would be larger, because if the school district had to purchase the entire curriculum the Foundation provides, we could not hire as many teachers.

On the evenings of Oct. 26 and 27, more than 150 Mercer Island Schools Foundation volunteers will be calling every household on Mercer Island asking for support. You may even get a call from one of us. We hope you will say yes. An investment of $500 per student covers a full year of needs in our schools.

Thanks to you, there is nothing routine about education in the Mercer Island School District.

By John Harrison, Mary Jo Budzius, Nancy Loorem, Rich Mellish, Fred Rundle, Aaron Miller, Craig Olson and Mark Roschy, Mercer Island School District Principals and Associates.

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