New Mercer Island superintendent gears up for school year

Getting the job as superintendent of Mercer Island School District represents a sort of homecoming for Donna Colosky, who grew up near Vancouver, B.C. She spent the last 32 years in California, and she brings 19 years of experience in educational leadership to the Island.

Colosky is hitting the ground running in Mercer Island, as school starts on Aug. 30. She said she is excited “to come into a community where education is so profoundly respected, and appreciated, and really prioritized.”

She studied vocal performance and earned her bachelor of music, as well as her teaching certificate, from the University of British Columbia. Colosky later received her master’s in educational leadership and administrative services credential from Chapman University.

When looking for her first job, Colosky went to a recruitment fair with about 10,000 prospective teachers from Canada, as there was a teacher shortage in the states. She walked away with a contract in a small K-8 district in rural Southern California.

“We had a lot of English language learners, and as Canadians, we were used to a second language,” she said.

Since then, she’s spent her entire career in education.

“The first day in a classroom, I had a kind of an ‘aha’ experience that this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” she said.

Colosky started her career as an elementary teacher, teaching primary grades and school-wide music. She then spent 27 years in the Apple Valley Unified School District, which is about three times the size of the Mercer Island School District, she said. She had a variety of different roles there — including principal in charge of establishing a new, technology-based elementary school — before becoming the superintendent for Paradise Unified School District.

She said that Mercer Island is “just the right size.”

“You can get to know everyone,” she said. “I feel like people perhaps don’t get quite as lost in the system.”

The different education regulations between the two states, plus Washington’s new funding model, are providing a slight learning curve for Colosky, who officially started on Aug. 1.

“The good news for me is that it’s changing for everyone … so we’re all learning it together,” she said.

She said that some of her work will involve diving into the school district’s Vision 2020 — as she noted, 2020 is rapidly approaching — and that will include the board, staff, parents and the community.

She added that school districts, no matter where you go, are all about people.

“That’s definitely one of the things that’s the same in every system in every state,” she said. “Our greatest costs are our people. They’re also our greatest asset.”

She is currently helping the administrative team go over the district’s budget, based on the implications from the McCleary court case and the Legislature’s reaction to it. That involved a $7 billion bump in education spending over the next four years, funded by a hike in the statewide property tax and a cap on local levies. She said that a transition year was built in to help districts adjust, and she has seen funding models evolve and change before.

“You have to go with the flow, and do the best you can with what you have,” she said.

Community input and transparency are essential to the district’s work, she said. She is looking forward to working with the School Board, which will have two new members after the November election.

“Working with the board is the primary role of the superintendent, helping them work as a governance team, and guiding them through as the education expert,” she said. “They’re the elected officials that bring ideas and experience as to what the community feels is essential to our system, because our students are the future of our community.”

Colosky and her husband of 30 years, along with their two dogs and 20-year-old tortoise (a class pet from Colosky’s last year in elementary education) are currently in the process of moving to the Seattle area. They have two grown children, both of whom attended K-12 public schools and graduated from public universities.

In her spare time, Colosky said she enjoys spending time in the outdoors, whether it’s snow skiing, hiking or kayaking.

For more on the Mercer Island School District, see