Lacey Aaker and Deborah Lurie. Courtesy photos

Lacey Aaker and Deborah Lurie. Courtesy photos

Aaker versus Lurie: Mercer Island School District, Director Position No. 4

  • Monday, October 18, 2021 8:30am
  • News

Lacey Aaker

* Why are you running for Mercer Island School District board director?

I’m running for MISD board director because our community deserves a stronger voice at the table where important decisions are being made on their behalf. Our district is in a precarious financial position and faces a widespread crisis of public confidence. I will work on the community’s behalf by leveraging my academic background in education and public administration, as well as classroom experience and educational policy work at the federal level to help provide insight and course correction. I would be humbled to work with the community to provide a steady, informed perspective as we move forward.

* What do you feel are three of the most critical issues within the school district and how do you hope to address them?

1.Lack of transparency and communication. This issue is a clear antecedent to our enrollment drops and budget crisis, and we must effectively address and remedy them before they worsen. It is a general truth that organizations cannot overcommunicate during times of crisis. I stand with many residents who saw inadequate communication before the pandemic become a full-on communication crisis during the pandemic. Many residents have felt woefully uninformed about decisions that impact their child’s learning, so opening two-way communication channels is a crucial first step. It is also a step that does not require complex solutions and starts with responding to parent emails and questions.

I would be in favor of implementing individual board director office hours outside of regularly scheduled board meetings. This will also provide inclusivity for those who may be unable to attend board meetings. While school board meeting times need to be consistent, it also means that someone with a scheduling conflict Thursdays at 6 p.m. does not have the same level of access as someone without that scheduling conflict. Office hours could help remedy this. Within this solution we must not only communicate with current families, but also begin stronger outreach efforts to parents who have left our district so we can begin the process of addressing their concerns.

Finally, when we discuss budgeting and enrollment, let’s not fall into the trap of forgetting that behind the percentages and dollar amounts are our neighbors and friends, and our students’ friends. We cannot lose sight of the fact that these enrollment drops are parents who made the difficult decision to remove their students from our district. The board and district must accept their responsibility for these oversights. I believe that starts with increased communication and transparency.

2.Lack of administrative oversight. To my mind, a key role of school board director is one of community and student advocate. In this role, the director bears a crucial responsibility for knowing what questions to ask the district on the community’s behalf. The field of education is rife with actors of good intent, but it is also a field deeply mired in buzzwords that are poorly operationalized and inadequately defined. We see education trends introduced yearly that are lauded as silver bullets which will herald unequivocal success for students but are often poorly or under researched or they are rushed out and hindered by haphazard implementation.

In addition to assisting and evaluating the research behind these policies, I will push to put into place a more formal evaluation and impact analysis process for proposed changes. Within these impact analyses there will be ample time for students, staff, parents, and the community at large to provide input and voice concerns. I know many would have appreciated this type of rigorous evaluation and time for community input applied to Universal Design for Learning and the changes to the HiCap program. Importantly, asking the district tough questions need not be a hostile process. Rather, it provides the district the potential for greater community buy-in and the ability to clarify intent and action. In the instances where administration cannot adequately answer questions, it allows them to revise and rethink their policies. Let’s make sure that education policy is done with the community and school staff, not to the community and school staff.

3.Not being cognizant of broader trends within education itself. While the problems we face are undoubtedly alarming, they are not wholly unforeseen, and while the pandemic may have exacerbated or quickened some of these changes it did not create them. Thinking about how K-12 education is connected to labor market trends, how it is connected to higher education, housing trends, social and political trends etc. is more important than ever. It is imperative for a director to understand and anticipate what challenges public education could face five, 10 or 15 years down the road. Having this broader scope allow us enough time to determine how local schools will be impacted and to create a roadmap to mitigate issues as effectively as possible. I will push for a wider view of the landscape and provide the community with as much information as possible of these broader trends to put the district, and by extension, our schools and students in the best possible position moving forward.

* What is the best way to help students thrive if they have issues with the return of in-person learning after spending time in the remote learning realm during the pandemic?

Remote learning year was undeniably difficult for many of us. I experienced both remote instruction as a social studies teacher and remote learning being in graduate school last year. Clearly, remote learning as an adult is much different than as an adolescent, but I can offer some insight that could be applicable here. First, remote instruction forced me to really reflect on how I was learning. Encouraging and helping kids to think about what they struggled with last year and what tools aided them in being successful could be a great place to start. Many of us, for example, created group chats to help troubleshoot course concepts or created virtual study sessions with one another to not feel as though we were going it alone. They may have also discovered some great applications that helped them take and organize digital notes and annotate readings. Some students may have found new adaptive technology to help their learning and utilized speech to text features with success. Making sure to keep those tools while developing and re-developing their skills in the classroom setting can aid in bridging the gap between remote learning and in-person learning and help students thrive. I’ve found that encouraging excellence while anticipating and making room for places to stumble is both a forward thinking and student-centered approach.

* What’s your life philosophy and how can you apply that to school district matters?

Every day you meet someone who knows at least one thing that you do not. Our community is filled with helpful, talented individuals in all areas and with a wide range of skills. I do not believe we have capitalized on this tremendous asset as much as we should have over the past four years. I would like to examine the possibility of creating a larger scale, individual or small group community service project for our students to lead over the course of their educational careers with us. A student-driven project like this could act as a component of the High School and Beyond Plan which is already a state graduation requirement. A community service-oriented project provides vital skills that reinforce those our educational staff are teaching in the classroom. These are skills that are useful no matter the path a student takes after graduation. Additionally, a project of this type brings the community in closer connection with its students and increases transparency.

Finally, in an increasingly competitive higher education landscape that is shifting away from standardized tests, it can also provide our students with a tangible artifact to demonstrate their passions as well as their skills in facilitating a larger scale project of impact. Our students are passionate about a wide variety of issues, I would like to lead efforts to help them harness that energy into action.

* An immense amount of learning takes place at home. What would you tell parents is the best way to prepare their children for school learning and being in a social atmosphere?

I am a firm believer that every parent is an expert in their own child’s unique strengths and needs, but I’m happy to offer some general ideas. First, open, and honest conversations are vital for child development and belonging. It’s helpful to emphasize for children that all emotions are valid and that it is perfectly OK for them to be experiencing a full range of emotions, even within a short period of time. It is also vital to understand at what point those feelings require additional help from a mental health expert. Many of us may be navigating our own return to working in an office environment and shifting back into social engagement, so it may be helpful to discuss and model your own strategies for reengaging. There has also been some psychological research into the benefits of spending time in nature as we recover from necessary social distancing measures. We are fortunate to have so many wonderful parks and neighborhoods on our island, and spending time in nature allows us to be both in public, but relatively unconstrained and not shoulder to shoulder with other people. It’s a great medium between being in our homes and being in the office or classroom. Finally, I would also encourage students and parents to explore creative outlets for naming and taming the mix of emotions many of us (me included!) are working through as we continue with this school year.


Deborah Lurie

* Why are you running for Mercer Island School District board director?

Mercer Islanders represent a wide spectrum of cultures, backgrounds, and political beliefs. Despite these differences, we universally love our children fiercely and want the best for them. Education is powerful; it positively impacts not only the student but also the community. I was once told, and truly believe, that education is a gift that can never be taken away. While resources and services might be finite, our collective passion and commitment to our young people is not. I can think of no greater way to serve my community than to help it come together to make decisions about the greatest gift we can give each of our children.

I am a life-long member of the Mercer Island community. I grew up here and attended MI public schools kindergarten through graduating with the Class of 1990. I earned my bachelor’s degree in business administration at Franklin and Marshall college and my law degree from American University. I returned to the Seattle area to start my career as a public defender and continue with that work today. In 2011, my husband Brian and I decided to make Mercer Island our home so our daughter Joey could benefit from the same exceptional education I did. She is now in 10th grade.

As a public defender, I have spent over 20 years advocating for children, parents and families in the areas of criminal law, at-risk-youth, truancy, child welfare, special education and mental health. I’ve passionately served and advocated for those whose voices are often unheard. This is my life’s work and purpose.

I have had the privilege of serving on our school board for the past four years. Certainly COVID presented unique challenges this past 18 months, but working closely with the administration and staff, we were able to make progress on several initiatives including ensuring that our staff and students had all available COVID protections. It has been a busy term and we have accomplished a lot including updating our values, vision and mission, creating board resolutions for gun safety prevention and a commitment to sustainability. We have created a facilities master plan and as part of our sustainability initiatives, we will start a sustainable transportation plan. We have accomplished a lot, but we have more work to do. The board must focus on issues for today such as enrollment-driven budget shortfalls, and prioritize issues for tomorrow such as sustainability in planning. Balancing the district’s many needs in a thoughtful, prioritized manner is critical in setting up our students and those who serve them for success.

I am running for re-election to the Mercer Island School Board because I want to build further on the momentum established by the current board and continue to build on the skills I have honed by serving these past four years. As a seasoned trial lawyer who’s spent years serving families and children in King County, I’ve developed passionate advocacy skills that now serve our board. To be successful in both of these areas, I’ve learned to listen carefully, consider all viewpoints, appreciate that every child has unique needs, and solve challenging problems together with others. I am led by strong convictions and values, and am confident in my ability to make informed critical decisions to continue to lead our district in being the best in Washington state.

I believe that our students deserve the highest level public education with the most qualified teachers and I believe that I am the best candidate for Mercer Island School Board director, position #4 to make that happen.

* What do you feel are three of the most critical issues within the school district and how do you hope to address them?

In my opinion, the three most pressing issues facing our district at this time are the mental health of our students, budget implications from declining enrollment, and hiring the right superintendent.

Mental Health of Students. Over the past several years, we have seen the mental health of students impacted by the pandemic, social media, an uncertain future and the prioritization of performance as opposed to well-being. To better support the well-being of our students, we must continue to support the whole child by providing different pathways for student success. The goal is to help all students find meaning and joy in their learning, plus feel a connection to the students, teachers and staff at their school. In addition, to address the mental health needs of our students, we should continue to provide counseling and other services in partnership with MIYFS.

Budget implications from rapid decline in enrollment. COVID added to an already anticipated decline in enrollment, accelerating the need to problem-solve for lower state funding that’s driven by enrollment numbers. We now must make difficult decisions to ensure a prioritized, balanced budget. I will continue to advocate to our state legislators to maintain enrollment stabilization for schools. In the event of budget shortfalls, we will have to look closely at our staffing models to ensure we have staff in the most critical places to support our students.

Hiring the “right” superintendent. Since our superintendent will be retiring, the board must make one of the most impactful decisions upon the district, the selection of a new superintendent. The superintendent is the district leader and must operationalize the values, vision and mission of our district. We must hire a person who will prioritize student needs, listen and communicate effectively to the community, and lead staff and administrators in modernizing how we educate our students. The board is seeking community input through Thought Exchange and use this information to inform our work to ensure a smooth and stable transition.

* What is the best way to help students thrive if they have issues with the return of in-person learning after spending time in the remote learning realm during the pandemic?

We must continue to meet students where they are. We need to focus on the mental health of our students as they re-engage in the school environment. Every student is different and has different needs. From a policy position, this means working within the budget to make sure that we have trained, professional staff to support our students as they continue their education while simultaneously building staff capacity through training and/or additional staffing to address the mental health needs of our students.

* What’s your life philosophy and how can you apply that to school district matters?

My life philosophy is to find my passions and figure out a way to embed them in everything I do. This clicked for me in college, where I started as a business major but didn’t enjoy it. When I took business law my senior year in college I found something that I loved and for the first time in my academic career, I enjoyed learning… and I was good at it. I discovered the magic of loving to learn and the more I learned, the more my passion for law and advocacy for others grew. As a board member, I’d like to help build the most inspiring educational setting for our district’s kids so that they too can explore, experiment, find things they love –- and things that they don’t! –- and ultimately become lifelong learners.

* An immense amount of learning takes place at home. What would you tell parents is the best way to prepare their children for school learning and being in a social atmosphere?

International data is showing us that success in academics is about quality not quantity, and that in-school formal learning is often sufficient without the need for hours of homework like we’ve demanded in the past. An immense amount of learning takes place outside of school — both through homework and other activities — so I believe a balance of age-appropriate and goal-oriented schoolwork and time for other endeavors, including sleep and nutrition, is essential.

Kids of all ages need an opportunity to just play and to explore their passions. Whether it’s free time outside, art, athletics, theater, baking, science exploration, or music, there’s so much that kids can learn from and that we may not offer — or offer enough of for those who love it — through the schools. Our district should support education in a range of settings and encourage kids to fill their time outside of school with activities that fulfill them as unique, curious individuals.

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