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Letter | Schools superintendent responds to Myerson letter
As the Superintendent of Schools for the Mercer Island School District, I wish to address a number of issues detailed in a published letter signed by Mr. Myerson dated April 3rd. Mr. Myerson did raise a number of the issues in his letter at the board table during open, public meetings in the past many weeks. Mr. Myerson sent to me the studies to which he referred in his letter (e.g., Leithwood, 2009) and to which I responded. At a board meeting open to the public, I shared that the studies he cited suggest that students from disadvantaged backgrounds (low socio-economic status) tend to benefit from smaller schools. The research to which he refers also defines smaller schools as schools under 200 students, which is not economically feasible for public schools in this economic environment. I also shared with the entire board that Mercer Island elementary students presently and over time have attended schools in the 600+ student range, and our students continue to outperform their age-mates and peers across the state.
Recently, I sent Mr. Myerson unsolicited research conducted by Dr. Greg Lobdell of the Center for Educational Effectiveness who has done educational survey analyses for the District. Lobdell, who was contacted by a local Mercer Island resident, was intrigued by the notion of school size and performance. On his own, he selected elementary schools in five (5) Puget Sound districts and 63 schools: MISD, Bellevue, Issaquah, Lake Washington, and Bainbridge Island. By comparing Reading and Math performance (combined) and school size, Dr. Lobdell found the correlation between size and performance is positive implying that—at least with these districts—as school size increases, performance also increases (a moderately strong correlation). While it is highly unlikely that large schools cause higher performance, it is clear that other variables such as socio-economic status, teacher preparation, parental involvement, and curriculum, etc. likely all contribute to this effect.
Finally, I must note that Mr. Myerson has not suggested to me the locations of the non-imaginary, viable and potential elementary school sites without the board using its power under the law to condemn land for public use. For the record, I feel the need to provide this additional background to your readers regarding this school size debate.
Gary Plano, Ed. D.
Superintendent of Schools, Mercer Island School District