Update Jan. 11: By a motion of the school board that passed unanimously, Mariel Fernandez Thuraisingham was invited to join the Vashon School board at a school board meeting held on Tuesday, Jan. 11. Earlier in the meeting, Thuraisingham was interviewed by the board. Gavin Watson, the other applicant for the position, had earlier withdrawn his application.
Two applicants have stepped forward to fill a vacant school board position for Vashon Island School District.
The applicants, Mariel Fernandez Thuraisingham and Gavin Watson, were introduced at a special school board meeting held on Jan. 5. Their initial presentations that evening are now viewable at tinyurl.com/2p9cjkvm.
Marial Fernandez Thuraisingham
Fernandez Thuraisingham, who moved to Vashon just days before the COVID lock-down in March 2020, is a law and policy expert who has worked internationally in the fields promoting justice and good governance.
She is currently the Clean Energy Program Lead for Front and Centered, a coalition of communities of color-led groups across Washington State, whose missions address the intersection of equity, environmental and climate justice.
Previously, she worked as a specialist for organizations and government entities engaged in rule-of-law-strengthening efforts in countries including Afghanistan, Burma/Myanmar, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Kosovo, Liberia, Mali, Moldova, and Sri Lanka.
In speaking to VISD’s board of directors about her qualifications, she also mentioned her work as an advocate for domestic violence survivors in Chicago, and as a legal researcher and program manager for the Justice for all Law Firm in Myanmar, from 2013 to 2016.
Thuraisingham received a law degree from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Chicago. She speaks English, Spanish and French.
She is also the mother of a small child who will one day attend the district — a factor that motivated her to apply for the open board seat.
“My son will be attending school here in just a few years and I want to be involved in supporting the school district to be more equitable and welcoming for all children and support all community members who are a part of it,” she said.
She said her varied background in public policy would inform her work on the VISD board.
“I’ve seen great examples of community organizing, and localized governments establishing structures that are foundational to strong and equitable societies,” she said. “And here on Vashon now I am ready to serve my community and support the island in achieving equity in its educational system … I care about the community where I have put down roots and want to engage and serve.”
Gavin Watson, who moved to Vashon in 2014, is currently a senior project manager for the Walt Disney Corporation in Seattle.
In his current position, according to his LinkedIn profile, he leads “functional design for identity services and guest experiences for [the company] in a scaled agile program, working with some of the brightest and most passionate technologists and product visionaries in the world.”
Prior to his current position, he also worked with Disney through Point B, leading Disney teams to define requirements for large-scale business systems.
His career, since the 1990s, has also included senior work with other corporations, in positions involving technology, marketing and management.
In his presentation to the school board, he said that he was the father of two children who had come through the Vashon schools, both in the classrooms of the district as well as short stints in homeschooling where his family engaged in FamilyLink programs.
He said he had applied for the open school board seat in an effort to provide a fresh perspective for the board as well as to hear and learn more about what the school district is currently wrestling with.
“I was particularly moved to apply because it seems like the challenges that are facing us are unprecedented,” he said, going on to detail the experiences of his own family through online education and the return to school this fall.
He said that through his work he is a believer in the power of process, which includes talking to and engaging stakeholders.
“I solve problems — that’s what I’ve been doing for many decades now in my professional career,” he said. “I respect what the board is trying to do and its mission in supporting the school administration.”
Watson holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Virginia, where he also did masters degree work in literary theory, literature studies, 20th-century sociology, cultural studies and political science.
The board of directors will again hold a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 11, to formally interview the candidates, and consider a decision on whom to select for the open seat.
The meeting can be viewed online at tinyurl.com/bddp6saj.