Incumbent Harlan Gallinger and Minal Kode Ghassemieh are competing for a spot on the Issaquah School District school board. The General Election will be on Nov. 5.
Gallinger has served on the school board for the past four years. During his tenure, he helped establish dual-language elementary programs, create policy to ensure equitable supports are provided to eliminate barriers to student achievement, according to his candidate statement on the King County Auditor’s Office website. He attended the University of Puget Sound and University of Washington.
Ghassemieh currently serves on the Issaquah School District levy development committee. She said she will focus on developing a more comprehensive plan for equity including training for leadership, administrators, teachers and the community, according to her candidate statement on the King County Auditor’s Office website. She attended Gonzaga University and University of Washington.
How do you feel about the policy limiting honors regalia during graduation ceremonies?
Gallinger: To my knowledge, the Issaquah High School community is still discussing their beliefs and approach to honors regalia and recognition for extracurricular activities for graduation, so I believe that it would be inappropriate for me to provide an opinion because I am not a parent in the Issaquah High School community.
While I understand that personal recognition is important, I do believe that ultimately graduation is a time for the class to come together, so anything that would be divisive to that moment should be evaluated for intent and impact. An unintended consequence could be for a student who has a learning disability and has worked his/her tail off to meet our district’s high standard for graduation only to feel “less than” at graduation. The hard work and effort that such a student has contributed may in fact far exceed the effort of a student who has taken seven AP classes, for example. I don’t believe anyone in our community would want any of our students to feel “less than,” so whatever the Issaquah High School community decides will need to strike a balance between recognition without diminishing the students whose educational success may not have come so easily.
Ghassemieh: I believe the policy limiting honors regalia during the graduation ceremony demonstrates a good faith effort to further develop and build on the district’s work around equity. A commitment to developing an equitable school community also means a commitment to changing systems that have resulted in inequities. This policy was developed through thoughtful discussion and deliberation by parents, students, teachers and staff. This policy would be an intentional and meaningful response to growing concerns that students feel pressure, rather than pride, as they approach graduation. By eliminating the honors regalia, all students of the graduating class would be recognized and celebrated equally. The policy would not discount or eliminate individual honors because students would still have the opportunity to celebrate those achievements in smaller ceremonies with the relevant school departments or programs. The intent and focus of the main graduation ceremony would be the collective achievement of all students who met graduation requirements. I appreciate the fact that a school is raising awareness of its inequities and actually doing something proactive about it. This is a good policy that supports the district’s commitment to equity and inclusion in the school community.
How much should the school board support extracurriculars?
Gallinger: Extracurricular activities are an important part of the educational experience for most students in our district. They provide the opportunity for students to explore their interests and to learn to work in teams — whether sports, robotics, performing arts, etc. Because they add such richness to our students’ education, I believe the Issaquah School Board should and does support extracurricular activities.
Extracurricular activities are an important community value, and our role as board members is to serve as the connection from the community to the district. These activities are supported in large part through the Educational Programs & Operations (EP&O) enrichment levy that our community has supported consistently for a generation. There will be another opportunity to support our students through approval of a renewal EP&O levy in February 2020. See visvote.org for additional details. Yet there are often participation costs to our students and families. I believe that we need to partner with our schools, community nonprofits, and PTSAs to ensure that students have an equitable opportunity and access to these extracurricular activities.
Ghassemieh: The school board should support extracurricular activities that provide students with social, emotional and mental skills needed to be successful in the classroom and community. Students are under a great deal of pressure to perform well academically, and extracurricular activities provide them with the necessary balance to be successful. Extracurricular activities complement classroom learning and teach young people to be good members of the community through teamwork, social skills, commitment and responsibility. Being on a sports team supports healthy living, chess club supports critical thinking, and playing an instrument supports an appreciation of the arts. The school board should work collaboratively with schools, teachers, parents and students to identify the best extracurricular programs and provide the necessary support so those opportunities are available to every child in the district.
How much should the board be involved in curriculum decisions?
Gallinger: The Board ultimately must approve every curriculum adoption, and at times takes great interest in curriculum adoption such as when Eureka Math was recommended and adopted for K-5. However, our professional staff who are experts in education spend countless hours vetting potential curriculum, piloting with teachers and students, discussing robustly with parents and teachers through a curriculum committee, and providing a preview and public comment period for every adoption, every subject — that during my four years on the board, I have not felt that any curriculum adoption was controversial. Curriculum review and adoption is on an established cycle that ensures our students have the opportunity for up-to-date curriculum, while allowing for the district to budget for the various adoptions that can be quite expensive. Should a situation ever develop where the Washington state learning standards set by the State Board of Education and the Office of Superintendent Public Instruction not be taught consistently across classrooms or buildings, or we identify consistent gaps in our district’s students’ knowledge, then I believe it is incumbent on the board to review the impact of a particular curriculum and/or instructional supports that our teachers are provided to implement the curriculum.
Ghassemieh: The school board should be advised on adopting curriculum that is consistent with state standards, district regulations and evidence-based best practices. Proposed curriculum should go through a meaningful review by teachers, parents, students and other stakeholders and there should always be an opportunity for public comment once a recommendation is ready. Student success is dependent upon the quality of teachers, family support and extracurricular activities so members of each should be involved in the review process. It is also imperative for students to be involved in the process because they provide the most important perspective on how they learn best including the fact that school subjects should be relevant to student lives. One hope I have for our district is not only to adopt ethnic studies but also provide teachers with the tools and resources to customize curriculum to reflect the students in the classroom. For example, if there are students with roots in Japan, the teacher should be equipped to talk about Japan’s history, or if there are South Asian students, the teacher should be able to show the class which countries make up South Asia. No individual school board or community member is an expert on curriculum, however a collaborative and rigorous curriculum review will ensure the best recommendation be sent to the school board for adoption.
How can the board help teachers and staff overcome affordability issues of living in Issaquah?
Gallinger: The Issaquah School Board has developed close working relationships with all our local legislators, and we spend time each year meeting with them locally and in Olympia. We have advocated for increases in educators’ salaries which the state has funded much of in the past few years such that the starting teacher salary has increased about $15,000 in the past two years to about $60,000. Advocating for a living wage for our educators is one of the most important ways that the Issaquah School Board has addressed the affordability issue. We have also discussed affordable housing with our city leaders in Sammamish and Issaquah, but it is a problem for which there is no easy solution. We will continue to partner with our city leaders to explore solutions. I currently also represent the Issaquah School Board on the Eastside Human Services Forum Board of Directors whose focus this year is on the topic of affordable housing across east King County. This is one small example of my/our tireless advocacy for our educators beyond just salary increases.
Ghassemieh: The School Board is uniquely situated to work with city council and regional partners to address affordability issues of teachers and staff living in Issaquah. This is an extremely important issue because a majority of ISD teachers and staff do not live in the district. Student success is directly related to the quality of instruction. A teacher who commutes a great distance before and after school likely has less time to prepare, less time to communicate with parents and less time to rest. It is important for school board and city officials to address affordability because happy and healthy teachers provide instruction to happy and healthy kids. School board and city officials should develop a diverse task force that includes teachers, staff, administrators, parents and students to discuss affordability issues, set goals, develop a plan and make recommendations to school board, city officials and other relevant stakeholders. We have done our teachers and staff a disservice as it concerns their inability to live in the district, and it’s high time we provide them with options and solutions. The school board is in an advantageous position to build the necessary bridges to address affordability and provide solutions to teachers and staff to live in the district.