Q&A: Forest Grove School Board candidates
Three seats on the Forest Grove School Board are up in the May 18 election.
Two of the races, for Position 1 and Position 2, are uncontested. Incumbents Brad Bafaro and Valyrie Ingram were the only candidates to file for those two seats respectively.
Position 3 incumbent Mark Everett drew a challenger, Mary Whitmore.
The News-Times reached out to all candidates with a short list of questions and received responses from Everett and Whitmore, running for the contested seat. Those responses are published below with only light editing for grammar and clarity.
What do you see are the biggest issues coming before the school board over the next few years? How should the board address those issues?
Mark Everett, Position 3: Adequately funding public schools across Oregon continues to be an ongoing challenge, especially given the economics of the pandemic. While there is targeted funding for specific legislative initiatives, in my opinion and based on my time as a school administrator, allowing funding to be allocated to specific areas where the district demonstrates unique needs is very important.
Mary Whitmore, Position 3: As a bilingual teacher, I value reading above all else. I'm terrified by our district's statewide reading and math scores. I've sent more than a dozen comments to the board, with resources where they can find out more about phonics. They simply don't respond.
We need to take reading seriously and commit to a three-year trial of explicit phonics instruction.
We'll probably be opening our physical schools in the fall. We must teach our children to read — in English and Spanish.
How do you feel about the current direction of the district? Are there areas the district or school board should focus on, but aren't?
Mark Everett: The current direction of the school district is to resume in person learning for all students. That is immediate and critical. It is and continues to be very challenging to do this safely.
Mary Whitmore: (see response to question 1)
What do you feel are the strengths and weaknesses of the district and how can it best address the weaknesses, while accentuating its strengths?
Mark Everett: A strength of the district lies in the staff. We have, across the district and in all areas, incredible dedicated people including educators, assistants and support staff. Equity work continues to be a focus. A fast pace in ensuring that equity across all areas is present, is needed. Having a sharpened lens on making sure that the district functions so that every student and staff member has a voice, feels valued and for students, achieve, needs to continue.
Mary Whitmore: Our strengths are our teachers, who have responded to constant and unprecedented challenges "of pandemic proportions." (Dave Parker has had a steady hand at the helm.) Our strength is well-administered vision, and wise oversight of tax-payer funded new buildings.
I remember Becki Kilkenny, a science specialist and the smartest woman I know. She is one of many that encouraged me to go to PSU to build on my career.
Our strength is our citizens, who have faithfully supported our modernization with tax levies.
We're facing a climate crisis. School kids admire Greta Thunberg for her activism. We have to open their eyes to STEM advances and help them build coalitions to save the planet.
Our weakness is the blinders our leaders have on (state level, too) when choosing reading instruction programs. Remember when Dr. Yvonne Curtis paid $600,000 for a Pearson program in 2010 which led to a complete collapse of our English instruction three years later? Phonics has endured for 100 years, and it's free after teacher training.
Take off the blinders and train our talented and patient teachers to teach properly! Our children's legacy is founded on their mother tongue!
How can the district better address closing the achievement gap, specifically between white students and students of color?
Mark Everett: The district continues to implement targeted programs as well as broad based programs to positively impact student learning for students of color. An example of some targeted programs include; SSA,Title I, Title IC, Title III, dual language programs and pre-school programs. Broader based programs include; reading and math interventions, high school CTE, AP and dual credit courses and AVID. Also, implementing social emotional support across the district, which is important and is aided by grant funding.
Mary Whitmore: When I first started with the district in '93 (way before Spanish immersion), I was shocked to see 7- and 8-year-olds pulled out of class to go translate for their parents at some appointment. Kudos to them for their bilingual skills, but they were not given credit for being bilingual when they got to high school: the requirements for a "foreign language" was out-of-sync with Washington County reality.
Our diversity is our strength! I saw Ballet Folklorico and Mexican dances at Cornelius Elementary — I'll never forget their happy faces! I was so proud of my own daughter's music achievements. Howard Gardener described eight types of intelligence — we need to recognize and applaud achievement in many more areas than the "three R's."
With distance learning still a factor, in at least a limited way, what do you think can be done to aid its effectiveness if need be going forward?
Mark Everett: I am very hopeful that we will move from distance learning to in-person learning safely, for all. I have been fortunate to be present in some distance learning classes while serving as a university supervisor. Learning, and teaching in this way is very challenging. In many ways it comes down to what we know about learning in any mode, personal interactions matter. For students learning in this way, having school staff connect with them, check on progress, provide reminders, etc., is critical and so the work we currently do here would need to continue and increase in the event of prolonged distance learning.
Mary Whitmore: We weren't ready for "virtual school," but we learned a lot. Phonics lends itself well to distance teaching. I have put almost 50 videos on YouTube to help interested folks learn English. ("Learn Explicit Phonics to Read English Fast!" and "Explicit Phonics Vocabulary.)
Board members need to pay attention to feedback from parents and students. It may have been under Stan Musser that a deep, comprehensive survey was done to let kids have their say about improving education. Did we listen? We need to do more listening.
Coronavirus has forced us to see education in a whole new way. Many kids were caught without tablets or wi-fi. Even though new technology is uncomfortable at first, we are training tomorrow's leaders — we have to upgrade our tech approach. There could be another pandemic around the corner, we have to be ready. "¡Tenemos que ser listo!"
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