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Letter: MIHS Student Urges 'Yes' Vote For Better Schools

Mercer Island High School senior Jolie Shen writes in a letter to the editor a response to an earlier letter from fellow student Kyle Huber and urges a "YES" vote on the $196 school construction bond issue.

To My Fellow Mercer Island Residents,

I would like to offer a response to concerning the . Firstly, I would like to argue Mr. Huber’s self-proclaimed position as the voice of the student body at . I think I can safely assume that I am not the only high school student vehemently against his stance about the bond. Not only is his argument extremely one sided with little concern for accuracy or truth, I find it laughable that he has the gall to claim that his opinion is the opinion for high-schoolers across the board.  So, “since students are the most important, right?” I would like to humbly offer my perspective as a fellow high school student.

The s overcrowding cannot stand alone as a simple problem in need of a simple solution. Overcrowding is both a result and effect of varying forces within the community. Coupled with a drop in the school funding ratio, increased requirements for equipment and technology, lack of space, increases in numbers of students and building inefficiency, overcrowding is a serious problem that can and will lead to a drop in our school district's success. The position held by the MI community as supporters of education is exactly what would lead to the eventual drop in housing values and the value of the community as a whole if the bond fails. It is naïve to think that the school bond or lack thereof has no direct influence on the island itself. Rebuilding schools that are all over five decades old, even with their twenty year old remodels, would undoubtedly transform the entire community for the better.

Simply put, portables suck. Being in one myself during middle school, and listening to the opinions of my peers, there is a distinct difference in the level of student satisfaction and learning that comes with a classroom in a portable.  Seemingly trivial things such as an extra 2 minutes walking outside to go to the bathroom in the main building, lack of air ventilation or conditioning, and distance from other school resources such as the library, office, and student centers do have an effect on teachers and students. If we choose to disregard student comfort and mobility (which for the record, should not go overlooked), the fact remains that the space in the elementary and middle schools can only accommodate up to two more portables with a huge sacrifice made to playground and field space.

Secondly, simply remodeling all four buildings is not only financially inefficient, but also only puts off for 10-15 more years what is necessary for our district to improve and remain competitive with the surrounding school districts. All of our elementary and middle school buildings are upwards of 45 years old. Remodeling them, although cheaper initially, would leave us with buildings that would once again need remodeling only 10 years down the road. From an economic standpoint, factors such as building orientation, mechanical systems replacement, disruption to classroom learning and higher demolition costs results in a minimuml remodeling price tag of 85% of the money needed for rebuilding. Not to mention if we wanted to remodel all our schools to their optimal capability, the cost would be up to 130% of what it would cost for a complete rebuilding. Further, compromises within the program and design guidelines would also have to be made. Permanent foundation structures in all the buildings would not allow for flexibility to meet the education program needs such as a cluster of science labs or an expanded library. Any improvement made on the schools would be effectively hindered by the past inefficiencies of our school’s design.

Also, aside from the obvious problem this would pose in the very near future, it seems that a remodel would also compromise education in the short term as well. Imagine how much more disruptive and unsafe school would be while construction workers and machinery are in the same building as the students and staff. Renovation would also force multiple moves for students into cramped conditions and rooms formed through temporary barriers instead of simply relocating the students to a different location on the school site all at once. It seems outrageous to me that the citizens of MI would vote no on a bond that would inevitably have to be passed anyway and pay 180% of the price at two different times all while forcing the students during the 15 year transition period to undergo severely compromised learning conditions. Instead, we should go through with this bond now, so that our future students can gain access to all the improved facilities and technology that we have to offer as soon as possible and effectively compete with other school districts.

Other than facilities and community support systems, the other aspect of the school district that directly affects actual student learning is its faculty. After moving here from two other school districts, one on the west and one on the east coast, I’ve found that the level of passion and education that the teachers of Mercer Island bring to our schools. Thus, I do not believe improving the learning in our schools lies in hiring better teachers. The next logical step then in improving the success of learning at our schools is to move forward equipped with all the design and technologies that were unattainable 50 or even 20 years earlier. Kyle states that newcomers are drawn to our district based on how the schools achieve. Imagine how much more we could achieve if we can combine the resources, dedication, and ability of the MISD with the updated technologies and facilities that the 21st century has to offer? As Kyle says, we are blessed to have the capability to change and adapt for the future, so why don’t we take advantage of it and give our students their very best chance to succeed?

Sincerely,

Jolie Shen

MIHS Senior

Jacqueline McArthur April 12, 2012 at 04:09 PM
Good to see our young people getting involved!
Carol Lewis Gullstad April 12, 2012 at 11:28 PM
Incredibly articulate. How wonderful to see students and young voters flex their civic muscles.
Kendra Hubbell April 13, 2012 at 08:15 AM
Jolie, thank you so much for taking the time to write this letter. Nicely done!!!
Jerry Gropp Architect AIA April 13, 2012 at 04:17 PM
Once again- How good to see this and other students' deep, direct involvrment in the MI ReDo the Schools Issue! J-
Susan Steppard April 20, 2012 at 05:43 AM
Jolie, would have loved your letter if you'd had a few graphs about the cost of the bond and how our senior citizens and the less wealthy among us were going to foot the bill. That was one of the biggest hurdles. Personally, I would love to see our teachers get higher salaries. Most of them can't even afford to live on the island. How about a reality check on the cost of living here--and how expensive all the things you want would be. Many people balked at paying an extra $700 a year on already high property taxes--and that includes young people with children in the school system. Not everybody here is rich, even at Mercer Island High School.

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