Two newcomers challenge incumbent for Estacada School Board zone six seat
Joseph Wilson and Keith Rex have challenged incumbent Ben Wheeler for the zone six position on the Estacada School Board.
Wheeler is the board's chair and was elected the group since 2015. He owns a construction company, is a member of the Estacada Planning Commission, and was previously a member of the Estacada City Council and the Estacada Area Community Events Board of Directors. Wilson is a member of the National Guard and works as a batallion administrative officer and helicopter pilot. He was previously a counselor and residential manager at Timber Lake Job Corps. Rex does bookkeeping for small businesses throughout the Portland metro area and is the secretary of his homeowners association. He is a merit badge counselor and previous scout master for Boy Scout Troop 802.
The Estacada News spoke to the candidates about their interest in running for school board, goals for the district and several other topics. Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Estacada News: Why are you running for school board?
Keith Rex: I saw a notice online about a number of positions open with no one filed to run. I couldn't let that happen. It's a way to support the community and meet a need.
Joseph Wilson: I've lived in Estacada for almost a decade. I'm pretty invested in our community and school district. I want to get more involved in the community and have more visibility in what's going on and what our kids experience in school.
Ben Wheeler: I love it. It's nice to be involved, and have a say in the direction we're going as a community. We have a great group of people on the board and administrators that work well together, and I want to see the fruits of that extended.
EN: If elected, what do you hope the board accomplishes during your tenure?
Rex: If I'm elected, it will be an opportunity to learn more about the goals and struggles of the schools, and further the vision of strong student support in many different areas — not just educational, but empowerment of themselves. They can accomplish more than they think they can, and it's important to keep striving with support from the school and community on their goals.
Wilson: I have a son with autism, so I have a special place in my heart for the special education program. I want to ensure that those students are taken care of . . . and ensure that everyone gets a fair shot.
Wheeler: I hope we continue to make gains in academic achievement. We've also shifted our focus to recognize the capital improvements that need to be completed. That can be seen when you drive around the district. It's important to people in Estacada that we reflect their wishes and care for what's been given to us.
EN: Describe an area in which the school district does well, and describe an area where you would like to see improvement.
Rex: In interacting with our teachers, staff and administrators, I've seen that all of them are truly in it for our kids. To support them in that process, one area I've seen that can be improved, and I've already seen some improvement, is communication. (We need communication about) not just what happens, but also projects and goals the school district has its mind on.
Wilson: Our community is very open minded and really caring. I don't see a lot of hatred or discrimination. The district reflects those small town, community values. The school district is very caring, and also does well with communicating. There's a lot of information flowing.
For an improvement, my focus at Job Corps was helping students finish their education and develop into good citizens. Students have an opportunity to learn their rights and responsibilities of citizens of the United States. When citizens of a country fail to recognize fail to recognize their responsibilities to that country, that society moves toward a dangerous area.
Wheeler: Communication wise, we're getting there. I had a conversation with a longtime Estacada resident who said the communication is better than ever. We need to continue to sing the praises of the district. There are a lot of positive things going on. Graduation rates and test scores are up.
(We need to improve) the consistency of education that every kid gets. There are definitely groups of kids who do well, but we need to make sure all kids receive that high quality education. In (professional learning communities,) teachers can learn how to teach every kid. It's something we've been working toward, and we're getting there.
EN: Estacada High School had a graduation rate of 80.9 percent last year. How can the district continue to improve graduation rates?
Rex: I'm on the middle school site council, and there are a number of factors that impact the graduation rate. It's strengthening these
processes that have improved that rate, and it's also tak-
ing a close look at the pieces that haven't been addressed yet.
Wilson: That rate starts at each elementary school as the community invests in the schools, and teachers and parents work together to develop the students' love of learning. In high school, it's important to keep students engaged and make school enjoyable. Students drop out for many reasons, but they can all be traced to the fact that they found something more important than school.
Wheeler: One component is CTE programs. As you look at those credits, kids who took one graduated at a rate of 85%, and those who took two were in the upper 80s. Encouraging kids to get into those classes and offering different CTE classes is key. We need to keep kids interested and things relevant.
EN: How should the school board encourage students to remain engaged with their education?
Rex: One idea that comes to mind is celebrating student achievement in a way that encourages other students to push themselves to succeed.
Wilson: It's got to be fun. We need to train teachers and look for people who make learning enjoyable, and continue to offer outstanding educational opportunities and activities for students who might otherwise fall through the cracks.
Wheeler: A lot of it has to do with CTE. Each kid has different things that make them tick and want to come to school — some have sports, drama or CTE classes. Having a vast array of offerings at the high school is key.
EN: What's something else you want voters to know about you?
Rex: I knit. Some people might think, "What does that have to do with school board?", but it's just a funny thing that makes me stand out.
Wilson: The Black Hawk landing near Estacada Middle School for Heroes Day was me.
Wheeler: I want nothing more than to see Estacada succeed. I want Estacada to be recognized as an area of excellence. There are a lot of positive things going on here, and I'm proud of it.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.