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May 4 Update: Planning a full return for the 2021-22 School Year

Dear MISD Community,

May is an interesting month in education. Schools are focused on finishing the current year strong while also feverishly planning for the start of next year. In an effort to keep our community informed, this message will address some of the many facets coming together to shape the 2021-22 school year. Key topics are:

  • A request that students, families, and community join me in thanking the nearly 500 staff members who are all integral to the education process. 
  • The District and Mercer Island Education Association's ongoing commitment to a full-return of students to in-person learning next fall;
  • How enrollment shapes planning for next year and ask for participation in an important enrollment survey to families that will come out later this week;
  • The District’s fiscal outlook for next year will likely be improved by the recently passed state budget; and
  • The sunsetting of Red Remote for K-1 and that MIonline offerings, which were greatly expanded this year to address the impact of COVID-19, may continue next year.

Staff Appreciation Week

We wish all of our team members a happy Staff Appreciation Week. The first week of May is typically celebrated as Teacher Appreciation Week. Extending gratitude to our nearly 500 staff members has been a part of our collaborative culture and belief that regardless of title, we are all integral parts of the education process. Please join me in recognizing our educators this year.

School Planning for 2021-2022

The District is planning for a full-return on September 1, 2021. Full-return is defined as all students attending in-person five-days per week for the full-school day (daily schedule prior to COVID-19).

In a recent meeting with our Mercer Island Education Association (MIEA) partners, we discussed several common interests that will serve as the underpinnings of our collaborative discussions this spring and summer. The District and MIEA have a shared commitment to a full-return to in-person learning at the start of next year. Together, we will work toward a full-return plan that:

  1. Creates safe and supportive schools for staff and students;
  2. Supports equitable and inclusive learning settings; and
  3. Addresses the academic, social, and emotional well-being of all students.

Achieving a full-return will not be easy. But, given the creativity and commitment of our staff and administrators, we are confident we will be able to overcome the hurdles such as:

  • lunches, 
  • transportation, and 
  • classroom capacity at 3-feet distance. 

The District is also in the midst of planning for academic, social, and emotional recovery next fall. Through the PTA, committees, and a survey coming next week, the District will be seeking input from community members about what our students need most. Dr. Luthar, a practitioner who has worked with MISD and Mercer Island Youth and Family Services was referenced in the New York Times just today. According to the article, psychologists who study resilience believe, “one of the biggest threats to the well-being of today’s teenagers is not social isolation but something else- the pressure to achieve, which has been intensified over the past year.” The District’s principals and other administrators met just this morning with the MIYFS counselors to discuss this very issue. 

Student Enrollment for 2021-2022

Just as in years past, student enrollment is driving decisions now for next academic year. The District and schools hire and retain staff to meet student demand. In addition to adjusting the number of elementary classes created and secondary courses offered to align with enrollment, the teams are considering the tiered supports our students will need next year including: English Language Learner (ELL), Learning Support, Special Education, Highly Capable, and the many other services that support our students.

To help inform the District’s plans for next year, all K-11 families will receive a survey on Friday, May 7 regarding their intentions for continuing enrollment next year. Each family will be asked to complete one survey for each child. Survey responses are not binding; however, they are important. Survey responses will help the District and schools provide the very best services and supports heading into the 2021-22 school year.

State Budget Implications on Future Budgeting

Last week, the Washington state Legislature passed the state’s budget. Though fully digesting and interpreting the budget will take a couple of weeks, the District believes that the state budget, as passed, warrants a more positive outlook on next year’s District budget. With this improved outlook, the District is hopeful that some of the positions identified through the reduction in force (RIF) process will be restored.

The District will focus on five key and inter-related fiscal priorities for 2021-2022:

  • Serving and supporting students academically, socially, and emotionally, especially as part of the COVID-19 recovery and learning forward;
  • Opening the schools to a full schedule;
  • Attracting and retaining excellent educators;
  • Adapting to ever-changing health and safety guidance; and
  • Maintaining a responsible fund balance.

Future of MIonline or Online/Remote Learning

Historically, District high school students had the ability to access online classes up to two classes per term. In order to address some of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the District extended online opportunities to all students via MIonline. Under this program, elementary, middle and high school students could enroll in online programs for part or all of their schedule. 

The future of MIonline will be decided in the coming weeks and months. High school students will certainly have the option of partially enrolling in online classes to accompany their in-person courses. The District’s ability to provide full online schedules to high school, middle school, and elementary students will largely depend on feedback and demand from students.

Kindergarten and first grade students were given the option to commit this year (2020-2021) to a fully-remote experience (Red Remote) taught by District teachers. The District is not currently planning on offering Red Remote again next year (2021-22).

Fred Rundle
Acting Superintendent