Merri Rieger - Tracey Compton, Renton Reporter
Merri Rieger
— image credit: Tracey Compton, Renton Reporter

Merri Rieger, the Kent School District’s chief student achievement officer, interviewed for Renton’s superintendent position on Monday. Included in her busy schedule was a tour of Dimmitt Middle School. About 25 people attended the public meeting the district held for her that night at Cascade Elementary School. Rieger has 30 years of experience in education and all of her credentials are from Washington State University, including a doctorate of education leadership.

Why this job in Renton?

“Because I have had a wonderful opportunity in my career to be in many different districts, four different districts,” said Rieger. “Along that journey, I’ve learned a lot of skills; I’ve built a lot of relationships and I believe that I have the skills that could help Renton get to where they want to go.”

When Rieger was looking to move to the next level in her career and said Renton was the only district on her list because of its diversity. Kent, her current district, has about 28,000 students compared to Renton’s more than 14,300, and there are 137 languages found in Kent schools, she said.

“It’s a majority minority district,” Rieger said. “And over the 13 years that I’ve been there, the diversity continues to grow and it continues to bring that richness.”

Rieger said she wants to bring her experience creating district support team models to Renton.

“Each building needs a little different support based on the students who walk through the door and where they are at the time in their learning,” she said.

What about your experience prepares you for Renton’s diversity?

“I think the diversity of a community and the diversity of the schools helps each one of us to grow and be better individuals and better community members,” said Rieger.

She feels that kids are better equipped for the world they’re entering surrounded by diversity. In Kent, like Renton, Rieger said that district has had to accommodate not only racial diversity but also cultural diversity because of the influx of families from other countries. Also, as a principal once in another diverse district, Rieger said she narrowed student achievement gaps.

What skills do you bring to Renton?

Rieger counts her experience with diversity among her top skills that she cherishes and the systemic support she can bring to classrooms. She’s worked with student populations from 28,000 students down to 4,000 students and has also been a principal and teacher early in her career.

How would you improve math and science achievement in the district?

Rieger’s approach to improvement in both areas is starting early in elementary schools with a strong foundation. For math, she said, helping students understand how they arrived at their answers and practicing math discourse are key to achievement. She used examples of illustrating abstract principles with tools kids can understand like blocks, pictures and paper.

“You make it real and especially if you have students coming from many different cultures and English may be their second or third language,” Rieger said. “Using visuals helps them to get the concept because that’s what it’s about.”

For science, being targeted about teaching the subject like through reading comprehension is one way to improve skills, she said. Rieger used the science, technology, engineering and mathematics or STEM programs from her experience as examples as to how to achieve results.

What’s the last book you’ve read?

Rieger is currently reading a book about Russian czar, Catherine the Great.

“I’ve always been fascinated by other cultures and when I was teaching social studies, I was teaching about Russia,” she said.

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