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Mercer Island School District No. 400 Director Position No. 5

4-year term. No salary, but some districts offer small per diem for evening meetings. School Board members, or “directors,” are the elected governing body of the school district, serving four-year terms. The school board’s governance responsibilities fall in four major areas: Vision – a focus on student achievement through a comprehensive strategic planning process; Structure – prudent financial planning and oversight, as well as diligent and innovative policy-making; Accountability – specific goals and a process for evaluating, reporting and making recommendations for improvements; and Advocacy – championing public education in the local community and before state and federal policy makers. The School Board sets the general policies of the district, which are implemented by the hired professional district superintendent and certificated teaching staff and personnel. One of its critical duties is the adoption of the district's budget and proposal of any school levies to be placed on the ballot to the people. The board sets policies and approves all spending via the budget. It also sets salaries for school district employees.

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  • Tam Dinh

  • Candidate picture

    John Rivera-Dirks

Biographical Information

What unique qualities about yourself, your experiences, and your education separate you from the other seekers of this office?

What, in your opinion, are the three most pressing issues facing your school district at this time?

How would you address the one at the top of your list?

How would you balance educational opportunities between schools?

How would you assure the safety of all students in your schools?

What are the issues that need to be addressed to provide racial equality in the schools?

How should technical training be offered in the secondary schools?

How can the schools provide adequate education for homeless, immigrant, refugee and non-English speaking children at all levels?

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Town where you live Mercer Island
Experience (300 characters max) I am a MI elementary school parent and a volunteer in the school district and community. I earned my MBA at Columbia University and my BA in Economics from Williams College. I served as a U.S. Diplomat overseas in India and I am an education technology exec at Amazon (formerly at Apple, & Microsoft)
I am an experienced leader who has served our country as a U.S. diplomat and as an education technology executive at Apple, Microsoft and currently Amazon. I know what it takes to be successful within large complex institutions managing multi-million dollar budgets, revenues, and goals with stakeholders to achieve successful outcomes.

I am also honoring the nonpartisan role of school board director by not applying for an endorsement from any partisan political party or partisan organization. I am doing this to build trust across the community and to be the advocate for ALL students.

I have an MBA from Columbia University and a BA from Williams College. I attended public schools for K-12 in New Mexico and was deeply influenced by my mother who was a public school teacher for over 30 years. I am committed to academic excellence; the well-being of our students and educators; diversity, equity and inclusion; and a well-run school system that puts student success at its core.
Number one: Finding sustainable funding for the youth mental health counselors in our schools and community so they can remain embedding in our schools providing our youth with the tools and support to overcome stress and anxiety, drug and alcohol use resulting from academic and peer pressure.

Number two: Ensuring the curriculum and programs in the school district are challenging and preparing students for the jobs of the future that don’t exist today but will ten years from now.

Number three: Attracting and retaining top educator and administrator talent.
MI City Council and MI School Board need to join forces to find the funds in their budgets and the support within the community to provide sustainable funding for the youth mental health counselors. We are privileged in Mercer Island to have many top experts in mental health working at Mercer Island Youth and Family Services. What we need now is someone like me who can work with the community and knows how to manage large complex problems within large organizations to secure the funding.

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. As a school board member, I will work tirelessly to build a constituency of concerned and supportive citizens, parents, educators and administrators, and students to fund this resource in our schools.
The schools in Mercer Island should share best practices and programmatic resources to balance educational opportunities. Let’s take the high cap program for example, there is one in West Mercer Elementary and one at Lakeridge Elementary, but they are largely run separately from each other. I think it makes most sense for a best practice to be sharing administrative, learnings and programmatic resources so the programs across the two schools are balanced with each other.
There are three areas key to school safety: 1) prevent violent situations from happening; 2) protect students and mitigate the situation if violence does occur; and 3) respond to the situation and recover from the violence for the students and the community to heal.

To prevent violence, I support Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), developing a culture of connectedness so no student feels isolated, and make sure schools are physically well protected. A key life skill for students is to learn how to be kind, inclusive and respectful of each and deal with negative emotions before they turn violent.

I would ask the superintendent to produce a monthly report tracking the physical incidents and how those incidents were resolved. I would ask an outside security firm to provide an assessment of the physical safety of the schools and the changes that should be implemented. Finally, I would make sure the educators are getting training on identifying risk patterns and safety concerns.
Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is a core pillar of my campaign platform. I am told that I am the first Hispanic to run for the Mercer Island School Board. I am committed to supporting the superintendent on continuing to implement the MI School District’s equity and diversity policies, while investing in DEI programs like the “Margins” program at the MI high school.

Mercer Island School District is 66% White, 20% Asian, 9% Multi-Racial, 1% Black, 4% Hispanic, and >1% Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, and >1% American Indian.

This is important because a key pillar of DEI in education is ensuring that leadership is itself diverse. It sends a message to the community and the region about the importance of diverse backgrounds in our school boards.

Further, out of these three candidates I am the one candidate with both US Government public service experience and large corporation experience which further diversifies the experience of the Board.
It is essential the school board supports a curriculum and programs that prepares students for the jobs of tomorrow. For example, five years ago no one heard of a “cloud solutions architect” for cloud services. Today, companies can’t hire enough of them.

We should look at programs where we quickly adopt technical curriculum that adapts to the quickly changing nature of technology careers – where the majority of jobs will be in the future knowledge economy. Even if a student is more interested in the humanities for example, they will still likely need to know how to code to be successful. Therefore, I would suggest every MI student graduates fluent in coding.

Meanwhile, we need to ensure our technological training is complemented with the core curriculum, including the humanities and civics. The College Board, after studying the factors that will ensure student success in work and life recommends our students become fluent in two codes: computer science and the U.S. Constitution.
Mercer Island is a privileged school district where only 4% of the student body are ‘low-income’ as defined by the Washington State Report card. I want to ensure that red flags are raised when a child is not fitting into the schools academically or socially due to factors of income or identity and are at risk of leaving the school district. Our educators, administrators and mental health counselors should provide as much support as possible to ensure the child isn’t failing as a result of hardship circumstances and to make sure the family is getting all the help they need from Mercer Island Youth and Family Services. In short, we need to make ALL students feel welcomed, be alert when they aren’t, and help them before they fail or decide to leave Mercer Island altogether.