Brian Giannini Upton and Dan Glowitz. Courtesy photos

Brian Giannini Upton and Dan Glowitz. Courtesy photos

Giannini Upton versus Glowitz: Mercer Island School District, Director Position No. 2

  • Monday, October 18, 2021 11:49am
  • News

Brian Giannini Upton

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

I believe that every child, regardless of race, characteristic, or circumstance, has a right to the supports and resources they need to create their future. I am a community volunteer and an advocate for children and public education. It has been a privilege to serve and an honor to represent over the last four years — I ask for your support in continuing this important work for our children.

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

Being a part of the board is a collaborative effort, it’s impossible to govern effectively without cooperation and compromise. I think the most critical issues facing MISD in the coming years will be system stabilization, addressing the urgent need of student and staff mental/physical/emotional health, and hiring a new superintendent. My promise has always been to focus on developing student-centered policy and managing value aligned budgets. Investment in the needs of our staff and students now will allow for success in the future.

* 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?

Each student arrives from a different experience and with varied needs. Recovering will require that the system and everyone involved take time to be mindful of our needs and aspirations, mapping clear goals, and working at an appropriate pace. This is a marathon, not a sprint; we can have high expectations and rigor while respecting healthy boundaries and approaches.

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

Theatre taught me to always say “yes, and…”. We need to take risks, prepare to fail or look ridiculous the first couple of tries, but through persistence and discipline we will master new skills over time.

* An immense of 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?

For parents: listen to your children, make sure you surround them with supports, and remind them that they can do it… that you believe in them. For students: Get lots of rest, be patient with yourself, ask for the help you need, and make time to be mindful.

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Dan Glowitz

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

As a graduate of Mercer Island High School (1999), I know first-hand what a first-class public education looks like. My wife and I returned to the Island, and the home where I was raised, when our oldest child entered kindergarten because of the strengths of the school here. We are fortunate to live in a small, well-educated and passionate community. Together, I firmly believe that we can be a beacon that shows what’s possible to achieve in public education. Right now, however, we are at a pivotal moment and the legacy of academic excellence is in jeopardy.

In the last year alone, 400 students, or nearly 10% of enrollment, have left our district in a mass exodus caused by a loss of confidence. The consequences of that loss are enormous; a $7 million budget deficit and the risk of financial insolvency before the end of the academic year.

Despite these immense challenges I remain optimistic. The fact that we are in distress affords a unique opportunity to reset, reflect and reinvigorate. If we embrace transparency, make decisions based on data, and lead with courage and conviction, we can fulfill our potential. And, by focusing on fundamentals, we can provide an education that prepares our children to thrive in a challenging and interconnected world — an education that is rigorous, relevant, innovative and individualized; one that enables them to take the next step in their journey upon graduation, wherever that may be.

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

First and foremost the district must regain public confidence. As an attorney with experience in financial restructuring and corporate governance and board matters, I can help earn back that confidence by insisting on transformative transparency and decisions backed by data. The district can repair the strained relationships and win back the skeptics, but first it must unlock and open the door and invite all the stakeholders to the table, so it can listen, present its reasons, and chart a path forward.

Second, we must fix a budget which is in shambles. Regrettably, as late as last spring, the circumstances should have been clear when the board convened on April 22nd. Over a year into the pandemic, the district had foregone making any staffing adjustments and had reached “the point of close monitoring and tight controls over spending.” Moreover, the likelihood of rescue in the form of state funding was quickly fading with our only hopes resting on “unforeseen additions or inflators that come in later in the year.” Yet, despite the many warning signs the district made few adjustments, with one board member cavalierly stating that “in projecting budgets there is always the hope that you land the plane on fumes.”

Unfortunately, it now looks like we may not make the runway. In order to address the financial crises, the board must face the facts clear-eyed, openly, and with a plan that prioritizes retaining as many staff as possible who directly interact with students. To that end, the board should immediately direct the superintendent to prepare multiple proposals for various enrollment scenarios outlining the tradeoffs and considerations underlying each alternative.

Third, we must not lose sight of our identity as a school district which has thrived because of high academic standards. Mercer Island is a unique and special place. Our school district should reflect that. An education is more than a grade, it is a lens for understanding the world in all its beauty and complexity. If we lower our expectations, we diminish opportunity and imagination and risk disengagement and apathy. Like many, my most memorable and meaningful classes were those taught by teachers who had the highest expectations. Those were the classes that left an imprint both academically and personally.

* 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?

The best way to help students readjust to returning to in-person learning is to focus on the learning loss and social and emotional trauma imposed by enforced isolation. But, as a preliminary matter, the district should be transparent and held accountable for keeping our schools shuttered well after it had become clear that with appropriate precautions private schools on the Island were able to return without incident. And now, as a result, we are dealing with some of the fallout, including a mental health crisis and a precipitous fall in enrollment.

Given the current situation, the school district should not be experimenting with massively unpopular curriculum changes that eliminate differentiated learning programs. We simply don’t have the resources to indulge in untested pedagogy that is based on exorbitantly-priced outside consultants who charge $3,500 per hour. Simply stated, we need to return to reality and focus on fundamentals.

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

I believe in energetically searching for one’s passion. To quote Susan Orlean:

“The world is so huge that people are always getting lost in it … the reason it matters to care passionately about something is that it whittles the world down to a more manageable size. It makes the world seem not huge and empty but full of possibility.”

An education in the broadest and truest sense enables students to find their passion, whether that is math, literature, chess, band, broadcast radio, computer programming or athletics. Passion is what helps make sense of the world and creates the potential for greatness. Given that importance, it is imperative that we preserve extracurricular and enrichment opportunities. As Steve Jobs observed, “people with passion change the world for the better.” We must not lose sight of that truth as we make tough financial decisions. Our children and our future depend on it.

* 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 don’t think it is my role as a school board candidate to offer parenting advice. As a father of a 12-year-old boy and a 9-year-old girl, I know it’s difficult and one is constantly wondering if the choices we make as parents are the best ones as we muddle through and try to do our best. At the end of the day, I think the best any parent can do is to love one’s children unconditionally and to try and impart some of the wisdom that each of us have gleaned from our own lives. Perhaps Khalil Gibran captured it most eloquently in The Prophet:

“You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.”


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