What do we want our school board to look like?
Two of my children were raised in Wilsonville and graduated from West Linn High School, as did their grandparents who graduated during the 'Great Depression.' I now have two grandkids attending Bolton and one, soon to be two, attending Cedaroak. Throughout all these years our teachers have been superb and the West Linn School District has been one of the best in the state and by most standards, still is.
That said, even a good school district under an ineffective, feel-good board, can stagnate or even fall backwards when their oversight is misguided and the lack of strategic long-range planning leads to overcrowding, misplacement of new schools, the redistricting to accommodate the new school and the lack of transparency of school district's staff, committees and board.
Lessons could have been learned if the current board had asked the hard questions of staff. Why, for an example, do we now have a primary (Stafford) and a middle school (Athey Creek) plotted, where to my understanding, not one child can walk to or even safely bike to, instead of in West Linn where safe corridors could have been provided for our children?
Why was a Spanish immersion class started at Sunset, then stopped after two years only to be restarted at Trillium Creek with so many students wanting to take the class that a lottery had to be held? The uptick of the lottery was that not all the students who wanted to or not even all the children in the Spanish immersion preschool class at Cedaroak can get into the class to continue their Spanish language education.
Why wasn't there more oversight of the Long-range Planning Committee by the board or its liaison to the committee led to the middle school redistricting debacle? Why didn't the board, knowing that there would have to be a redistricting, start the process much earlier? Or even have a representative from the effected schools on the committee? Had the current board listened to the parents from the schools effected, the parents wouldn't have been subjected to the "dog and pony show" put on by the staff.
Why are we now throwing the children, who we invited —along with their tax dollars — into our district, "under the bus" in the misguided attempt to fill Meridian Creek Middle school? The school board made an agreement with the "out-of-district" parents that they would treat them as residents and as part of our school community. I'm sorry, but they are now in fact "constituents" and should be treated as such, not to be thought of as "outsiders" to be discriminated against.
The current board and long-range planning committee should have understood and considered the near future developments, such as the Frog Pond development in Wilsonville, soon under development, that will create an additional overcrowding problem in the next three or so years as families buy up the new homes.
I think the question we now need to ask ourselves as we fill out our ballot is: do we really want a feel-good board who are willing to stand by the district's perceived laurels and who should have been more involved in the district's business? Or do we want a board that is an activist board who will listen to the parents and citizens, open their minds to new ideas while giving direction and demanding more transparency from district staff?
In my opinion, our children deserve better than they've been getting from the current board as we face the new challenges and pressures of our share of the development taking place to accommodate the 300,000 more people moving into the Portland metro area in the next five years.
Jim Farrell lives in West Linn