Issaquah school board candidates are whittled down to two choices

March 12, 2013

By Lillian O'Rorke

Alison Meryweather, Lisa Callan emerge as finalists

Lisa Callan

Lisa Callan

Alison Meryweather

Alison Meryweather

Lisa Callan or Alison Meryweather will become the next member of the Issaquah School Board.

After three hours of questioning, an hour-and-a-half executive session and another 30 minutes of public discussion March 6, the Issaquah School Board narrowed its choices to the two women.

The school board has had a vacant seat since Jan. 9, when Chad Magendanz resigned to serve in the state Legislature. By Feb. 14, five people from the 4th District, which spans from the Issaquah Highlands through the downtown corridor and south to Tiger Mountain and the district’s southeast corner applied for the open seat.

Since then, the remaining school board members have reviewed the applications, which include a personal statement, résumés and letters of recommendations. (They can be found online at www.issaquahpress.com.)

“It is an incredible testimony to this community that we have five people in one director area that are motivated enough to jump through all these hoops and want to volunteer for this job,” board member Suzanne Weaver said. “I think every person we talked to tonight showed a tremendous amount of dedication and caring about the district.”

During their March 6 public interview, the candidates — Callan, Meryweather, Margo Campbell, Justin Park and Justin Rolfe — got the chance to see what it feels like to sit on the board. Instead of taking their usual seats in front of the boardroom, current board members gave up their spots so the candidates could be in the spotlight. The board members then asked each applicant more than a dozen questions, which included three that were submitted by the public.

“What is the district doing really well right now, and what can the district improve on?” was one of the first questions. Both Meryweather and Callan answered that one of Issaquah’s strong points was its reputation for being financially responsible.

But there are other areas that could be improved, Meryweather said, explaining that there is a sense in the community that high school students should have a seventh-period option that would allow them to explore more elective classes. While that comes with a huge price tag, she admitted, other improvements don’t, like revising the homework policy.

Callan answered that while the district continually turns out wonderful students, it also needs to work on the achievement gap. That, she explained, would involve feeding a child’s basic needs so his or her mind would be free to grow and learn. Another improvement she’d said she’d like to see is communication with the public, adding there can never be enough of that.

When asked what they would do if the district suddenly got buckets of money to spend, Callan said she would like to use those resources to close the achievement gap, improve student nutrition, put more labs in schools and make sure each building had a dedicated art and music teacher. Meryweather said the first thing she would do is find out where the community would like to invest those dollars. She added that while she doesn’t have a pie-in-the-sky list, directing money towards teachers and teacher-development would give a high return.

Whoever the board appoints to the position will serve out Magendanz’s term through November. At that point, the seat will be open for the general election. With that in mind, the board asked candidates if they intended to run for election in November and whether their answer depended on whether or not they were the board’s final choice this spring.

Meryweather was the only candidate that said regardless of the board’s decision, she intended to run in November, and her daughter was already looking forward to designing her campaign signs. Callan said she has given the topic a lot of thought and that it ultimately comes down to whether or not the 4th District constituency is well-represented, so she’ll have to wait and see if that happens.

“I would be proud to serve on the board with each of the five candidates,” board president Brian Deagle said after returning from the board’s 90-minute executive session.

During that time, the board was only allowed to discuss the applicants’ qualifications. Any decision made had to be done in public. After reconvening, the board decided to narrow the five down to the two who would be interviewed again in two weeks.

“When you have the caliber of people who are willing to apply to spend 400 hours a year, serving an organization for zero pay, it’s amazing that we have this much participation,” Deagle said. “It’s about passion, and one of our criteria is commitment to public education, a commitment to the Issaquah School District, and you all have it.”

A second public round of interviews for Callan and Meryweather is scheduled for at 6 p.m. March 20, at the district’s administration building, 565 N.W. Holly St.

On the Web
Learn more about School Board final candidates Lisa Callan and Alison Meryweather by viewing their complete applications at www.issaquahpress.com.

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