From left, John Rivera-Dirks, Tam Dinh and Linhui Hao are all vying for an open school board seat in the Mercer Island School District.

From left, John Rivera-Dirks, Tam Dinh and Linhui Hao are all vying for an open school board seat in the Mercer Island School District.

Three candidates aim to fill an open seat on the Mercer Island school board

Tam Dinh, John Rivera-Dirks and Linhui Hao compete for Mercer Island School District Position 5.

The three candidates vying for Mercer Island School District director position 5 are Tam Dinh, John Rivera-Dirks and Linhui Hao.

The Reporter prompted each candidate with the same questionnaire.

Biographies of each candidate:

Tam Dinh: I came to America when I was seven years old as one of the boat refugees from Vietnam. Today I am a mother of three boys, a professor and director of the social work program at Saint Martin’s University, and a Mercer Island resident of nearly eight years. I benefited from the American school system, and I want to give back by helping students recognize their different pathways to success.

For over 25 years, my professional and volunteer work has centered around improving accessibility, diversity, and inclusivity in the community. I was the first director of Boise State University’s Cultural Center, coached my son Sebastian’s AA Cubs team, and served as a member of IMS Parent Advisory Committee. Currently, I am a member of Washington State Suicide Prevention in Higher Education Workgroup.

John Rivera-Dirks: I am a former U.S. diplomat and currently an education technology executive at Amazon Web Services (previously I worked in education technology at Microsoft and at Apple). My service to Mercer Island schools and the community includes volunteering on the MISD Technology Advisory Group and at Lakeridge Elementary, and supporting community organizations like the Stroum Jewish Community Center, Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation, and Mercer Island Youth and Family Services. My wife, Sheila, and I are Mercer Island elementary school parents. I was born and raised as the fourth of five children in Santa Fe, N. M., where my mother was a public school teacher for over 30 years. I enjoy travel and exploring the great outdoors with family and friends. I hold an MBA from Columbia University and a BA in economics from Williams College.

Linhui Hao: Education is in Lin’s blood. Daughter of an elementary school principal and a mathematics professor, Lin went on to graduate at age 19 with her bachelor degree from the prestigious Wuhan University. She earned a biology PhD on full scholarship from the Ohio State University, and worked 11 years as an academic researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Lin’s volunteer experience cuts across the entire school microcosm, from working with students to school district fundraising.

• She has tutored students in Chinese and coached math teams

• She is treasurer and frequent chaperone for Team O, the Orchestra’s booster club

• She serves on the MI School Foundation Board as secretary

Additionally, she is founder and board member of the Mercer Island Chinese Association (MICA), whose mission is to maintain social interactions and to promote cultural and educational awareness of the Chinese community in Mercer Island and the greater Seattle area.

Lin and her husband Dr. Liu moved to Mercer Island, of course, for the schools in 2016. She has two children, one at IMS and one at the MIHS.

What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing the district/school board and how would you address it?

Dinh: Mental health, one of the most debilitating challenges that our students face, limits their ability to learn, grow and achieve their dreams. We need an education system that nurtures each child’s mind and heart, where the spirit of innovation and excellence grounded in an ethics of service is encouraged. We need to reassess “student success” by moving beyond such traditional measures as GPA and standardized testing. Our students should connect what they learn to larger purposes in the service of their communities and humanity. Our school board must provide steadfast leadership to engage with students, parents, educators, staff and the community to lead the conversation about how we can collectively support our children.

I believe my education, mental health expertise, and advocacy background would be an asset on the school board to help address the increasingly complex needs of our growing, diverse student population. I hope to use this experience to help build a safe and supportive learning culture that ensures our students thrive in school and beyond.

Rivera-Dirks: Securing sustainable funding for the youth mental health counselors in schools is an immediate major challenge facing the Mercer Island School District. The solution will require the school board and the city council (who both share funding of the mental health counselors) to examine their existing budgets and look for creative funding solutions first and, if it is determined funds need to be raised, work together with the community to determine the amount and the process to secure the remaining funds. I am uniquely qualified because in my business career I have managed multi-million dollar budgets and revenue goals across large complex organizations with successful outcomes. As a former diplomat and in business school, I mastered negotiation and brokering multi-faceted agreements. Finally, I am honoring the non-partisan role of school board by not applying for endorsements from partisan political parties or partisan organizations so I can effectively work with everyone in our community to reach agreements that support the success of all our students.

Hao: The challenge our school district faces is ensuring that all students have access to the resources they need for a fulfilling education. We must understand students’ needs and balance them against outside competitive expectations. A strong curriculum, delivered by quality teachers and backed by counselors, provides opportunities both for academic success and for nurturing imagination and the passion to learn. I will support students’ learning by making data-driven decisions to ensure sustainable funding for quality staff. I support increasing opportunities such as student enrichment activities — job shadowing, field trips, mentorships — through more community partnerships and other creative means.


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