The three candidates vying for the Lake Washington School District director District 5 position are Siri Bliesner, John Towers and Susan Wilkins.
The primary election is Aug. 6
The candidates were given the same questions to answer.
Siri Bliesner: Thank you for the opportunity to serve students, families, staff and community members on the Lake Washington school board for the past eight years, most recently as board president.
I am an experienced and passionate advocate for kids, engaged at the local, regional and statewide level. I am committed to excellent outcomes for each and every student and responsible fiscal management to deliver a high quality public education.
I have lived in Redmond for 16 years. Both my children graduated from Redmond High School. I have been active in local schools and my community, from a chess and robotics coach, to musical producer and AVID tutor, to founding Trustee of the Lake Washington Schools Foundation and LWSD liaison to the Eastside Pathways board. I have been honored to receive awards for my involvement, including the PTSA Golden Acorn. Professionally, I have over 25 years of experience in program evaluation and data analysis.
John Towers: I have always enjoyed being a part of the education process. My passion in life is working with people and being engaged in the community.
I grew up in Sedro-Woolley, a small town nestled in the Cascade foothills of Skagit County. My mother worked as a classroom aide at Cascade Middle School within the Sedro-Woolley School District. Throughout secondary school, I became involved with mentoring younger students.
My love of learning ultimately led me to become a doctor of chiropractic. I chose this career path as I wanted to make a positive change in the lives of people around me. Every day in the office brings me joy as I engage with the public.
My wife is a middle school science teacher and we are raising three energetic sons. Our eldest son is a student at Ella Baker Elementary on Redmond Ridge. It is always a pleasure having the opportunity to volunteer in his classroom. I also have the opportunity to work with the students at Ella Baker through the soccer enrichment class I run once a week after school.
Susan Wilkins: I have lived in Redmond on Education Hill for more than 20 years. My husband and I have four children who are now adults. They all attended Lake Washington schools starting in 1999. I was a parent volunteer and PTA member at Horace Mann, Einstein and Rockwell elementary and at Redmond Junior High. My children attended alternate programs such as Quest, Stella Schola, Running Start and WANIC-DigiPen so I am familiar with many of the district’s learning opportunities. I also home-schooled one of my children for two years in order to correct learning deficits that the district was not able to address. I attended Wellesley College and graduated with a bachelor of arts in geology and enjoy taking field trips to the many geologic features and shorelines in the Puget Sound region.
What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing the district/school board and how would you address it?
Bliesner: LWSD is a well-managed, high-performing school district — with capacity to be a world-class district with strategic improvements that ensure all students are ready for their future. To accomplish this we must:
1) Provide opportunities for all students to reach their potential: Expand hands-on and career-connected learning; ensure equitable access to courses and programs; and target strategies to address specific student needs, such as AVID, culturally responsive teaching and inclusive practices.
2) Create learning environments where students thrive — physically, emotionally and socially: Address critical classroom space and safety needs; establish welcoming and inclusive schools; and support well-being through staff training and additional counselors, social workers and partnerships.
3) Engage stakeholders by building partnerships and connections: Continue responsible use of taxpayer dollars; seek out student and family voices; collaborate with community and businesses to leverage resources and establish innovative opportunities; and advocate for ample and stable education funding from the state.
Towers: Increase in population around our district is having a dramatic impact. It becomes very difficult to predict the increase in numbers for years to come. Our economy may be booming, but our school district is struggling to keep up. A combination of more space, increase in teachers, para educators, counselors, and transportation is needed to adequately keep up with the demand. Not only must we meet the demand for space and teachers, but also the mental health of our students. We must spend money efficiently to give all our students the basic education one would expect.
Wilkins: The biggest challenge facing the Lake Washington School District is the need to identify students who are falling behind and then providing appropriate support and intervention to help students learn at grade level. For many students, the lack of qualified and timely intervention has left them years behind their grade level and struggling to catch up. For parents, the inability to get help for their students has been frustrating and often costly.
The district initiated a program known as Multi-Tiered System of Support Services (MTSS) that tests students multiple times during the school year to determine their progress and also identify learning deficits. Unfortunately, it will be at least three years before the system is fully implemented and then it will take even longer for the district to add the coordinated services and therapies that will address struggling students. Parents have been asking for help for their students for years. Addressing student learning immediately must be at the very top of the school board’s list of goals for 2019-20.