As we welcomed the 2024 calendar year, two new community members joined the School Board and will help guide the district’s direction and decision-making. Matt Coyne and A.J. Taylor were elected in November to serve four-year terms on the board, replacing Suzanne Weaver and Anne Moore, respectively.
Representing Director District 1, Taylor has previously served on the district’s Financial Advisory Core Team and also the district levy planning committee, and has volunteered for multiple nonprofit organizations. Taylor first got involved in his daughter’s school through the Parent-Teacher Student Association (PTSA), and quickly became interested in larger education issues, particularly school finance. He says he looks forward to bringing his expertise in policy governance and strategic planning to his work with the board and the district.
“I think I have a sense of what it takes to craft policy that makes sense and is able to be acted on. I’ve also done so much strategic planning work ... and I’ve learned a lot in the last decade or so in this space about how to effectively plan,” said Taylor, who has worked for Microsoft for 18 years and has a law degree and two degrees in history. “When you’re talking about an organization as large as the district, you can’t do it all, so you have to prioritize.”
When new members join the School Board, they typically attend the "boot camp” at the annual conference hosted by the Washington State School Directors’ Association. The session is designed to quickly familiarize new board directors with high-priority topics. In Issaquah, Taylor and Coyne have also spent time meeting with the superintendent and executive directors of each educational department.
“I’m continually surprised by the breadth and depth of all the issues that a school district has going on, from facilities to labor issues, curriculum, social-emotional learning, behavior issues,” Taylor said. “It just goes on and on. It’s exciting in a lot of ways. ... I think my job now is to try to learn as much as possible and then try to help prioritize where the needs are.”
“I’m very cognizant of the role of a school board member, and the role in my mind is to represent the community and be the voice of the community in the type of schools that they want to see,” he continued. “I want to be as available to the community as I can be, and be in tune with the conversations that people in our community are having (about the schools) – good and bad.”
Taylor said he’s looking forward to talking with and working with the district’s state legislators in his role as the board’s legislative representative and, in particular, funding gaps. “We get all these unfunded mandates. We’re already starting to see it’s not working. ... There’s got to be some kind of solution,” he said. “I am very much concerned about school finance and our budgetary constraints that we may be facing in the district moving forward.”
When he’s not talking about the school district or at work, Taylor enjoys spending time with his family, going to shows with his wife and golfing in the summer. He also said he loves playing guitar with his 9-year-old, although he describes himself as a “very poor, amateur guitar player.”
Coyne, who was elected to represent Director District 5, said that when he is not juggling his day job in wealth management and all that comes from raising two teenagers, he enjoys spending time with family and friends as well as walking his dogs while listening to a good podcast.
Like Taylor, Coyne first got involved in the district when his son started kindergarten in 2012. But, his knowledge of education issues goes way back, as he is the son of two teachers, is married to a teacher, and has many other teachers in the family. Soon after his son started elementary school in the Issaquah School District, Coyne happened to meet a leader from the Issaquah Schools Foundation (ISF), and before he knew it, he became a member of the foundation, started committee work, and shortly thereafter joined the foundation board. He served on the ISF Board for six years, with two years as board president. Through his board work with ISF, the Issaquah Food & Clothing Bank, and the Garage teen center, Coyne said he became familiar with the district and its strengths and needs. He also volunteered for the National Schools Foundation. A few of the issues that are top of mind for him include support for teachers, Special Education funding and support, and youth mental health.
“I have deep respect for teachers,” Coyne said. “I think the profession is so important, and I worry about the future of the profession. I want to be sure that we’re doing enough not only to recruit but to retain our teachers.”
In particular, he hopes the district can partner with the city and state to come up with options for teachers that increase their ability to live within the Issaquah School District.
Growing up, Coyne spent a lot of time in his mom’s classroom, as she was teaching Special Education. The lack of state and federal funding for Special Education is of particular concern to him, he says, so that we can ensure we’re able to meet student needs and support our educators working in Special Education.
[Issaquah School District is not alone in this need; districts throughout Washington use their local levy dollars to fill the gap between what the state funds in Special Education and the cost of meeting student needs. In our district, the levy is providing about $17.3 million of the total of $52.4 million budgeted for Special Education this school year. The remaining funding comes from state dollars ($30.2 million) and federal dollars ($4.9 million)].
Coyne’s interest in supporting youth mental health needs started when he first joined the ISF Board more than 10 years ago. “Back then, we were seeing it and talking about ‘How can we address this, and lessen the stress that we put on our kids?’ I think we’ve had a lot of good dialogue, but we just need to put more in motion. The need is out there,” he said.
Strengthening connections of all families with our schools not only increases engagement and volunteers, but also helps set our students and families up for success, Coyne said. “If our families are experiencing a challenge, they oftentimes are going to go to their school.” That’s why it’s critical to ensure that our educators and staff are equipped with information and resources that families may need.
The last major area Coyne said he hopes to have an impact in is engagement and volunteers. “I really want to bring families in – all families, including those that are new to the U.S. school system,” he said. “I think we’ve done a good job, but our district demographics are changing, and we need to make sure all families have an opportunity to engage in supporting their student’s education."
Coyne said he hopes more families will get involved at their local schools, or with area organizations and boards, because added diversity will enrich the discussions and work of those groups. “Just the ability to sit on a board – this is something I always encourage people to do – board participation is such a great way to learn a new skill and broaden your perspective,” he said. “I have benefited greatly from the diverse perspectives and lived experience of those I have had the opportunity to sit alongside in my years on non-profit boards.”
To learn more about each of our School Board members, visit the “Meet the Board” page of our website. In photo above, members of the School Board, from left: Dr. Harlan Gallinger, Sydne Mullings, Matt Coyne, Marnie Maraldo and A.J. Taylor.