Superintendent Rundle December Message On Cultural Days of Celebration, Students Making Their Mark, No Place For Hate Student Group, and Marching Band in NYC
Greetings Mercer Island Community,
I struggled with this month’s message- starting, stopping, and deleting many drafts. Toiling with what to say seems odd given the many student, staff, and district accomplishments in 2023. I’m proud of what we accomplished in November alone. However, I am also keenly aware of that which continues to challenge us near and far. So I harkened back to Ms. Smith’s 9th grade English class in high school for some advice. In Ms. Smith’s class I learned that when you struggle to get the introduction going, write some of the body first and then come back to the beginning. Drafting December’s cultural and religious days of significance clarified what I want to convey to our community.
Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanza, when looked at in isolation, emphasize profound, unique, and important religious and cultural beliefs. Some of our community members celebrate two or three of these holidays and others do not formally celebrate any of them. Regardless of our personal connection, something powerful emerged when reflected upon holistically. These December traditions collectively emphasize hope, kindness, community, belonging, and joy. (Flash back to Diwali in November and forward to Eid al-Fitr in April, and these same characteristics are prioritized.) And when I think about our schools, classrooms, buses, and playgrounds, this is what I want us all to feel in our schools.
With so much to celebrate, what keeps me up at night and perhaps contributed to my writer's block this month? I know our district is not universally a place of hope, kindness, community, belonging, and joy for every single student, staff member, and community member. You see, in my role I have the privilege of knowing about all of the wonderful things that take place each day but also sources of conflict, disappointment, and frustration.
While traveling with our marching band Thanksgiving week, more on this below, the blissfulness of the trip was distracted by the awful graffiti on the Herzl-Ner Tamid Synagogue. I was disturbed and disappointed by the hurtful nature of this incident on a very important place of congregation for many on Mercer Island. We need to make space for conversation and understanding rather than these cowardly attempts to voice opinion and spread hate.
One group of students working to unite us is the No Place for Hate (NP4H) student group at Mercer Island High School. By nature, conflict and war requires at least two participants. The war between Israel and Hamas nears two months, and the conflict is becoming even more poignant in Israel and Palestine as well as around the world. As I stated in my October 12 memo to the community, the complexity in all of this is the political and historical underpinnings; the simplicity is the horrific impact on humanity, especially the innocent civilians caught up in the conflict.
Our NP4H student group is more active than ever, looking to remind us all that there is truly no place for hate in our communities. Instead, they are working to bring speakers and organize events that promote listening, discourse, and learning. Adults, we need to not only allow students to broadcast their voices but lean into the message as well.
This December, in addition to following the lead of our students, we can take strides toward hope, kindness, community, belonging, and joy in MISD through gratitude and graciousness. I urge us all to be more grateful and show grace toward one another. Life is hard enough right now, and we are all doing our best.
And with my thoughts more organized, let me showcase our district as we head into December and put November in the rearview mirror.
More than a Thanksgiving Day March
I had the honor of joining our MIHS marching band in New York for the Thanksgiving Day Parade experience. The parade day was wonderful and should not be downplayed, but to be honest, it was not the highlight for me. The real story was the MIHS musicians who practiced and prepared for weeks and months to march in the parade but showed up in New York to represent all of Mercer Island back home.
The flight attendants and pilots who flew us, bus drivers who transported us, tour guides who shepherded us, and local New Yorkers who observed us all shared similar sentiments, this was the most respectful and impressive group of high school students they have been around. I cannot tell you how proud our community should be of the way Mercer Island was showcased by our marching band.
Students Making Their Mark
- KMIH 88.9 The Bridge- Seven current MIHS students as well as five 2023 grads were recognized at the annual John Drury Broadcasting Awards in Chicago. MIHS Broadcast Media teacher Joe Bryant was highlighted in the K-12 Dive publication about how podcasting helps students develop their voice.
- Asian American History- Students at Crest Learning Center have been doing a multi-modal examination of Asian American experiences and history in the United States. This project illustrates how it is not just specific months like Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month when we focus on the many diverse people who shaped and contributed to our country.
- The MIHS Computer Repair Club is running a used technology donation drive on Saturday, December 9th from 1-4pm at Mercer Island High School. Senior Keegan Wang has created the non-profit Computers For Kids Foundation which will share the donated technology items with youth educational non profit groups in the region.
- This week is Inclusive Schools Week and MISD is partnering with WASA to present a showing of the film This is Not About Me followed by a forum with the film’s star Jordyn Zimmerman and MIHS graduate, Grant Blasko. Both are young adults with Autism who use Augmentative & Alternative Communication.
Cultural and Religious Celebrations Important to Our Community
- Chag Chanukah Sameach! Happy Hanukkah to our Jewish students and families. Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. The celebration this year begins in the evening of December 7 and culminates on December 15. The celebration lasts for eight nights and days, during which a special menorah is lit. The holiday's origins lie in the victory of a small group of Jewish rebels, known as the Maccabees, against the Seleucid Empire. According to tradition, when the Maccabees reclaimed the Temple, they found only enough oil to light the menorah for one day, but miraculously, it lasted for eight days. Hanukkah is a time for joy, gratitude, and the retelling of this story through the lighting of candles, festive meals, and the exchange of gifts.
- Merry Christmas! I wish our families who celebrate Christmas a very Merry Christmas. Christmas Eve (December 24) and Christmas (December 25) hold profound significance as they mark the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ in Christian tradition. Christmas Eve is often characterized by festive gatherings, candlelight services, and the anticipation of the coming day. It is a time for reflection, prayer, and the exchange of goodwill. On Christmas Day, December 25th, the focus shifts to the joyous culmination of the Advent season, with families coming together to exchange gifts, share meals, and partake in festive traditions. Beyond the religious context, these days have become a time of more collective celebration, fostering a spirit of generosity, kindness, and togetherness.
- Habari Gani! And finally, to our families and friends who celebrate, I am wishing you a blessed Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is an African-American and Pan-African holiday celebrated from December 26th to January 1st. Established in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, it is a cultural festival that honors African heritage and promotes community building. Kwanzaa is rooted in seven principles: unity (Umoja), self-determination (Kujichagulia), collective work and responsibility (Ujima), cooperative economics (Ujamaa), purpose (Nia), creativity (Kuumba), and faith (Imani). Each day of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of these principles, and families come together to light candles on the kinara, exchange gifts, and engage in activities that reinforce these values. The holiday serves as a time for reflection, reaffirmation of cultural identity, and the strengthening of community bonds.
Hope, kindness, community, belonging, and joy, let us take these aspirations with us into December. We will not let perfection deter us from progress, but we also will not stop striving to match what we celebrate in our personal lives with what we experience in our schools.
The Mercer Island School District is hosting a Community Zoom webinar on Tuesday, February 27 at 7pm on the review of the curriculum of the health and physical education programs at Mercer Island High School and Islander Middle School.
Superintendent Dr. Fred Rundle hosted a MISD Budget and Human Resources community webinar on Tuesday, February 6.
Back in August when opening the school year with our staff, I quoted something Pete Carroll said in an interview a few years ago that has stuck with me.
All four Mercer Island School District Elementary Schools will be holding school tours on Thursday, February 8 and Wednesday, April 17. The tours will take place from 9:30am-11am.