School district superintendent delves into open enrollment at webinar

Rundle will recommend open enrollment to school board for grades 8-12.

Three words spoke volumes at a recent community webinar.

Mercer Island School District (MISD) Superintendent Fred Rundle reiterated the following trio of verbs several times while discussing open enrollment and other topics on March 19 during the Zoom meeting: attract, retain and return.

As Rundle rolled through copious slides during the hour-plus-long event, he spent some time focusing on the district’s short- and long-term challenges of enrollment, state funding, aging facilities, academic offerings and experiences, complexity of student needs and social and emotional well-being.

While all those issues are crucial to address, open enrollment was given the main spotlight at the webinar as Rundle is required — per school board policy — to make a recommendation to the board no later than April 15 regarding welcoming nonresident students to join the district for the 2024-25 school year for the first time since 2009. The superintendent makes a recommendation annually and the board takes a new vote each year.

Following robust open enrollment discussions with Rundle and board members at recent board meetings, the superintendent will recommend to the board at its March 28 regular meeting that the district engage in open enrollment for 80 to 100 students in grades 8-12 for the next school session.

If the board approves Rundle’s recommendation at that meeting or at a future meeting (members will gather again on April 18), the open enrollment window will open in April. Rundle will also recommend on March 28 that open enrollment apply to children of eligible district coaches, educators, club advisers and part-time staffers.

“Open enrollment isn’t going to solve everything, but it is one piece that I think can help us to continue making the progress and moving our district forward,” said Rundle, adding that all of the Island’s neighboring districts utilize open enrollment.

At the webinar, Rundle noted that open enrollment evens out enrollment, sustains programs and services and creates a more predictable short- and long-term enrollment. He added that it’s beneficial that the state apportionment of $11,600 follows each student to another school district.

Rundle said the district knows it has experienced a decline in enrollment as some families have departed the district, but the retention numbers are improving.

“Competition is there and we need to continue to up our game, continue to improve the educational experience in our school district, get better as educators to define ourselves differently from these other districts, private schools, online schools etc.,” he said, noting that attracting, retaining and returning families is one of the keys to enrollment success.

On the district attraction front, staffers have been amplifying its triumphs on social media, holding individualized school tours and superintendent family focus groups, reaching out to realtors, participating in community events and more.

Mercer Island High School Principal Nick Wold said that while holding a school tour for one family recently, they were attracted to the district’s strong reputation for high academic expectations and solid programming.

“The word is out: Our reputation is strong. We have a wonderful school and school district,” Wold said during the webinar.

As for going the grades 8-12 route for open enrollment, Rundle said those grades are where he thinks “the programs and opportunities are most susceptible to being taken away.”

One of the takeaways Rundle hopes that people absorbed from the webinar is: “This isn’t about a windfall of money. This is about programs and opportunities for our students. How do we maintain that quality educational experience in and out of the classroom at our high school when it’s a one-high-school district trying to maintain as a 3A district in our communities?”

While continuing to display transparency, engagement and communication to community members, Rundle delved into the monetary landscape during the webinar and addressed part of it as such: “I think it’s important to always demonstrate to our community that whether or not it’s a levy or a bond, whether or not it’s state dollars or local dollars, we’re trying to maximize all of them and do our very best with the resources that are allocated to us.”

Some Mercer Island parents who contacted the Reporter in recent weeks shared unfavorable views of MISD opening its doors to open enrollment.

One of the residents, Adam Ragheb, said that, “I am concerned that open enrollment will distract our board from working to address already-identified problems within the district, a topic on which I spoke to the board four months ago and has so far resulted in zero actions or public discussions. In short, open enrollment does nothing to fix the real and already-identified issues at the district, and local students with means will continue to leave.”

Lindsey Blaine, MIHS athletic director, noted at the webinar that the school can attract more great coaches into the Islander sports realm through open enrollment.

“I get a lot of coaches that apply for positions that, one of their first questions is, ‘Hey, if I coach here, can my kid come to school here?’ And right now, I can’t say yes, but I would love to say yes,” she said.

MISD Director of Learning Services Jamie Prescott added that the district receives an average of 10-20 applications for choice enrollment each year for families wanting their students to gain a better academic experience in an area closer to the parents’ workplace, their friend group and more.

The Reporter plans to follow up with another open enrollment story next issue.

To view the entire webinar, visit:

The district’s FAQ page is at: