Issaquah School Board candidates square off in forum
October 22, 2013
By Peter Clark
New: Oct. 22, 3:39 p.m.
Policy and training divided the two Issaquah School District school board candidates at an Oct. 17 candidate forum.
Appointed board member Allison Meryweather is attempting to win her first election for the position against Lisa Callan, who also applied for the board appointment earlier this year.
“I discovered first hand the lack of funding our state provides our schools,” Meryweather said about her time on the board and volunteering in classrooms. “It’s not just about funding. It’s also about how we strategically invest those dollars.”
Callan said she believed her leadership roles in The Boeing Co. and a long history involved in the educational system qualifies her for the board position.
“I believe in civic duty,” she said. “We are very fortunate to live in a community that has supported our public schools. But there’s still more to do.”
On policy, a large focus for Meryweather, who has spoken broadly about the district’s responsibility to lobby Olympia legislators, the candidates had a slightly different take. While they agreed about outreach, Callan wanted stronger policy to reach out to children while Meryweather emphasized approaching the community to help students.
Callan reinforced her views in strengthening technical training for students, particularly at Tiger Mountain High School.
“I’d like to see a blend of vocational support so every child is working towards a living wage job,” she said.
Meryweather continued her push for improving teachers through training in the face of a new evaluation process.
“The new measurement is very complex and is very time consuming,” she said of the state-mandated evaluation procedure. “We need to give teachers the skills they need to help improve their craft.”
Callan agreed the evaluation is complex, but pushed for more accountability.
“It’s a multi-phase process,” she said. “As this is getting rolled out, I think it’s very important that everyone has the training and there are feedback mechanisms in place to make sure that the goals are being met.”
Callan said she was against having a member of the public sit in on teacher contract negotiations, speaking on behalf of a “safe space” to talk freely. Meryweather said she remained “neutral” on the subject.
Meryweather cautioned about the state’s move to the Common Core State Standards and how it will place greater weight on teachers and their students.
“Instead of going a mile wide and an inch deep, we’re going a lot deeper in the subject area,” she said. “Students are ultimately going to be held accountable with this ‘Smarter Balance’ tests that are going to be held statewide.”
Callan also acknowledge the new state standard would lead to a challenging learning curve, which would require community support.
Both candidates defended the board in its decision to break away from policy governance last year and take a more active role in deciding the scheduling of Liberty High School.
“They needed to represent the voice of the community as a whole,” Meryweather said.
Callan agreed with caution.
“Why you would go out of those guidelines is to reflect community values, and the board has to represent that community,” she said. “I wouldn’t want it to happen very often.”
The candidates sharply divided on the issues of charter schools, approved by voter initiative last November.
Although the high-performing Issaquah School District does not expect any charter schools within its boundaries, candidates gave clear reasons for their personal stance.
“I did not support the charter schools initiative,” Callan said. “It would be hard to argue that we have a need for charter schools here in Issaquah. I would rather not take money away from failing schools.”
“I did support the initiative because I would not tell a parent that their only option was a public school that is underperforming,” she said. “I think it’s very import that parents have options to fulfill their student’s needs.”
Meryweather asked Callan what the largest challenge would be if Callan were elected.
“Getting up to speed,” Callan said simply. “Understanding the complexities and making sure there is a collaborative element. That is key. You’ve got to make sure you’ve got all the data.”
Callan asked what Meryweather wanted in board reforms.
“I believe we need reforms that increase accountability,” Meryweather responded.