Alison Meryweather fills Issaquah School Board vacancy

March 29, 2013

By Lillian O'Rorke

New: March 29, 1:37 p.m.

The search for the fifth member of the Issaquah School Board is over.

After two rounds of interviews, the board voted 3-1 March 20 to appoint Alison Meryweather to the District 4 seat, which was left vacant Jan. 9 when Chad Magendanz resigned to serve in the state Legislature. Meryweather was sworn in at the beginning of the board’s March 27 meeting.

“Alison brings passion for public education and experience in advocating for kids,” said Brian Deagle, the board’s president in a statement released by the Issaquah School District. “She has volunteered countless hours for our district, and we are excited for her to extend her service to the board of directors.”

Deagle originally voted, along with board member Suzanne Weaver, for candidate Lisa Callan March 20. Minutes later, however, in order to break the stalemate and avoid letting the decision go elsewhere, he changed vote to Meryweather.

“The interview process was the easier part than watching the vote,” Meryweather said after she had been appointed. “Lisa and I were here to support each other, and whichever way the vote went, we were OK with it. I am obviously pleased that the decision went my way. I have a lot of work ahead of me.”

The 49-year-old mother of two is no stranger to the Issaquah School District. With a freshman and junior at Issaquah High School, Meryweather has been active in the PTSA at both the school and district level since her daughters started elementary school. This has included serving as co-president of the Issaquah School District PTSA Council. During that time she testified several times before the state Legislature and lobbied for such things as the K-12 education reform bill in 2009 and charter schools. Back in Issaquah she also took an active role in Issaquah Schools Foundation and Volunteers for Issaquah Schools, which works to pass bonds and levies for the district.

In an interview at her home March 26, Meryweather said she began scaling back this year by stepping back from the PTSA Council because she knew that that Magendanz’s school board seat could soon be up for grabs.

“I just feel like it’s the right space to meld my passion for, certainly the funding…but also really wanting to bring in some of my policy advocacy, and the two together,” Meryweather said. “We’ll see how that aligns with the district and where Ron [Thiele] wants to take the district.”

Meryweather said she is not coming to the school board with an individual agenda, but she is interested in increasing graduation requirements.

“It still kind of amazes me that you can graduate from high school and meet your high school graduation requirements and not meet college entrance requirements,” she said.

Meryweather added she understands not everyone wants to attend a university, but she said even if a student choses a trade school, they are going to benefit from more math and science. And if someone decides a few years out of high school that they do want to go to college, its cumbersome for them to have to go back and make up classes just to get in, Meryweather added.

“I really believe that the kids need to be prepared for all options,” she said. “So that is something that I am kind of passionate about. The kids, there is not limit to their options when they get out, and if you are prepared for entrance requirements for a state school than all options are available to you.”

Meryweather has been serious about education since she was student in the small island community of Bar Harbor, Maine.

“I was the kid that was in all the clubs: French club, student council. I did track — indoor and spring track,” she said. “It kept you busy.”

As a popular summer tourist destination, she said, there wasn’t a lot to do the rest of the year

“It was truly like you rolled out the sidewalks on Memorial Day and rolled them back up on Labor Day,” Meryweather said. “Schools were our cultural connection to the community … that was our entertainment for better or worse.”

What really made her appreciate education was her semester at sea. For part of her junior year at the University of Wisconsin, she cruised around the world with other students and adult learners, visiting places like India.

“It kind of solidified my whole perspective on education,” Meryweather said. “To go to other countries and see kids that weren’t in school and education wasn’t valued … from that whole perspective really, it was appreciating the opportunities that I’ve had that shaped who I am today.”

Now that she’s on the school board, she said she wants to focus on the students, not only their academics but also their social and emotional health.

“In Issaquah we are really fortunate, we are completely blessed that we have a very engaged community and a lot of financial support,” Meryweather said. “But our kids still need some of that day-to-day support to be successful. And really wrapping around what that takes as a community is something that I want to focus around.”

Meryweather will serve out Magendanz’s term through November, when the school board seat will be open for the general election. During the first round of candidate interviews March 6, Meryweather was the only one that said she intended to run in November. The other four candidates, Callan, Margo Campbell, Justin Park and Justin Rolfe, all said they would have to wait and see.

However, they don’t have long to wait. The last day to file a declaration of candidacy with King County Elections is May 17.

“I’m anticipating that there will be other people,” Meryweather said. “So, I am prepared for that.”

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