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North Clackamas School Board candidates Karelia Harding, Kathy Wai oppose vouchers

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Harding was born in Honduras, and Wai was born in Myanmar

No matter who wins the May 16 election for North Clackamas School Board's Position 5, voters will increase the ethnic diversity on the board.

After 12 years on the board, Vivian Scott decided to step down and encourage two women from diverse backgrounds to step into the position.

Karelia HardingPosition 5 candidates Karelia Harding and Kathy Wai are both U.S. immigrants. Harding was born in Honduras to a family of five girls, and Wai was born in the Southeast Asian country of Myanmar (formerly Burma) and came with her family to Oregon "to escape dictatorship."

A Milwaukie resident, Harding was vice president of the National Migrant/ Seasonal Head Start Association Board, and was a member of Oregon Department of Education's Equity Community Advisory Group and the state's migrant-education parent advisory committee. She considers herself fortunate to have a bachelor's degree in education (1992) and a master's degree in special education (1995) from Honduras University.

"Growing up, my parents always put our education first," Harding said.

A resident of Happy Valley, Wai works as the civic engagement manager for the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, where she served on the board of directors from 2009-12. She is on the steering committee for the Asian and Pacific Islander Community Leadership Institute.

Kathy WaiWai believes that North Clackamas needs leaders who are "culturally competent" to address Oregon's growing diverse population. She graduated from St. Mary's Academy in Portland in 2004 and received her bachelor's degree in community health in 2007 from Portland State University.

"I was the first person in my family to attend and graduate from college," Wai said.

Harding is the parent engagement and equity manager of Head Start's Oregon Child Development Coalition, where she has worked for 16 years. She had worked as a teacher and as program director of Camp Fire's "Success Program" for seven years, overseeing specialized in-school programs that served more than 2,000 students.

Harding met her husband while he served as a missionary and English teacher in Honduras, and their three children have attended school in the North Clackamas district. They have been married for 22 years and have lived in Clackamas County for just as long.

"Through employment and my personal experiences I have discovered that parental involvement is the most important contribution that ensures a student's success," Harding said. "As a working mother and wife, I understand the burdens and challenges that many of our community's families struggle with."

During a candidate's forum last week at Willamette View, both Harding and Wai made it clear that they oppose voucher systems for residents of the North Clackamas area to get public funding to send their kids to private schools. Harding said that few parents would be able to benefit from such a program at the expense of most other families, while Wai said that she instead supports strong neighborhood schools.

Harding has been endorsed by Milwaukie City Councilor Wilda Parks; Rebecca A. Palacios, a 2014 National Teacher Hall of Fame inductee and founder of Palacios Education Consulting; Jonathan Fernow, a migrant specialist in the state's Office of Teaching, Learning and Assessment; and Dr. Kristin Mock, executive director of the Oregon Head Start Association.

Wai has been endorsed by Clackamas County Commissioner Martha Schrader, former North Clackamas School Board Chair Cheryl Myers, state Sen. Michael Dembrow, state Rep. Jeff Reardon, state Rep. Karin Power, Milwaukie City Councilor Angel Falconer, and Clackamas Community College Board Member Dave Hunt.

Tory McVay, an incumbent on the North Clackamas School Board, is being challenged in his re-election campaign by retired NCSD employee Jill Jackson, who missed the deadline for including a statement in the Voters' Pamphlet.

The May 2015 election saw the lowest number of candidates for Oregon school-board seats in a decade, and nearly three-quarters of all candidates ran unopposed. To combat that trend, the Oregon School Boards Association in January launched the Get on Board campaign.

"We hope to see sitting board members offer their expertise for another term, and motivate community members — including persons of color — to take up the challenge of volunteer board work," said Jim Green, OSBA's executive director, earlier this year.