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Read their opinions: new board members will be elected May 21, ballots go out on May 1

COURTESY PHOTO: JOHN HARTSOCK - John Hartsock

COURTESY PHOTO - Amanda Orozco-Beach

Gresham-Barlow School District, the state's 10th largest, has four school board sets up for grabs, but only one contested race in the May 21 election.

The board will be overseeing a lot of big initiatives in the district over the next months and years.

Gresham-Barlow is replacing two high school principals: one at the public charter school, Center for Advanced Learning, and the other at Gresham High School.

The district also is in the middle of a building boom, fueled by a $291.2 million bond that voters passed in 2016. Both Gresham and Barlow high schools are getting major overhauls and expansions. East and North Gresham elementary schools are being replaced. Upgrades at other schools include heightened security.

The district is also redrawing elementary school attendance boundaries as West Gresham Elementary School is scheduled to be closed.

The Outlook asked the candidates to answer identical questions about the district and education. Their answers follow. We also asked about their favorite children's book, numbers of school-related meetings they have attended and what they do for fun. Candidates were given a limited length and the Outlook edited some answers for length and clarity.

Position 1, Zone 1

Jeff Gibbs

Gibbs, an incumbent, is director of technology services at the Reynolds School District. He is running unopposed.

The Outlook: Why do you want to be on the Gresham-Barlow School Board?

Gibbs: I want to do what I can to ensure all students in Gresham-Barlow, including my own, get the best education possible. All children need to be engaged, challenged, and inspired at school. I think my experience working in education agencies and schools will be a great benefit to the board.

The Outlook: What are the two most important things you think the district could do better?

Gibbs: I don't have an answer for this question yet. It takes time to fully understand the opportunities for improvement in an organization the size of Gresham-Barlow and then determine how to improve those areas without causing other unintended problems.

The Outlook: For you, what will be the most challenging part of serving on the school board?

Gibbs: It takes a lot of time and dedication to be a good board member that makes good decisions for our district. The challenge for me will be to balance the board work with spending quality time with my family.

The Outlook: What is your favorite children's book?

Gibbs: "The Clown-Arounds" series by Joanna Cole and illustrated by Jerry Smath

The Outlook: How many school-related meetings have you attended?

Gibbs: About 10.

The Outlook: And what do you do for fun?

Gibbs: I enjoy camping and spending time with my wife and children.

Position 2, Zone 3

Kris Howatt

Howatt is a local business owner and has served on the school board for 19 years. She is unopposed.

The Outlook: Why do you want to be on the Gresham-Barlow School Board?

Howatt: I've served on the GBSD board since 2000 and continue to be excited about the advancing opportunities for all of our students. While the basics of education stay true, the methods in presenting those basics are changing. Educating our students is more personalized and they require more skills to be learners into the future.

As a lifelong resident of Gresham, I've seen our community expand and become more diverse. Awareness of that rich diversity will create a better learning environment for all our students. 

I'm excited about the work we've started and optimistic about the work going forward. 

The Outlook: What are the two most important things you think the district could do better?

Howatt: First, as the community population has changed, the way we communicate to our community changes. We require more styles and methods to reach a broader population. 

Second, we are seeing increased pressure on how we meet the educational support of our special needs students. We will need flexibility in supporting those needs. 

The Outlook: For you, what will be the most challenging part of serving on the school board?

Howatt: The work of a board is more effective when they work as a team, incorporating all viewpoints. With relatively new board members over the last few years, we will need to work on building that team.

The Outlook: What is your favorite children's book?

Howatt: The Artemis Fowl series, by Eoin Colfer.

The Outlook: How many school-related meetings have you attended?

Howatt: 32.

The Outlook: And what do you do for fun?

Howatt: I'm a small business owner with my daughter. We are in our sixth year of running a quilt store in downtown Gresham, that includes a full online component. Any leftover time for fun revolves around family activities.

Position 6, at large

Mayra Gomez

Gomez, appointed to the board on July 1, is the director of college and career readiness at West Linn-Wilsonville School District. She is unopposed.

The Outlook: Why do you want to be on the Gresham-Barlow School Board?

Gomez: As a school board member, I will have a positive influence in the Gresham-Barlow School District. I will bring the perspective of marginalized communities into the decision-making process. I am committed to working with all stakeholders to provide our students (with) the best education. I understand the struggles that our students face. Through an equity lens, I want to work on closing the opportunity gap that has for so long been holding back bright young minds.

The Outlook: What are the two most important things you think the district could do better?

Gomez: School districts in general should have a better relationship with teachers and teacher unions. All stakeholders — students, families, teachers and community members — should be working together for what's best for our kids without divisiveness and regardless of personal interests.

The Outlook: For you, what will be the most challenging part of serving on the school board?

Gomez: So far, the most challenging part of being on the board is time. When I commit to something I commit wholeheartedly and I have been using my personal leave and vacation time to attend school board retreats and trainings.

The Outlook: What is your favorite children's book?

Gomez: "Playing La Lotería/El Juego de la lotería" by R. Colato Laines and "Rosita y Conchita by E. Gonzalez."

The Outlook: How many school-related meetings have you attended?

Gomez: More than a dozen.

The Outlook: And what do you do for fun?

Gomez : I enjoy reading, spending time with family and friends and hiking.

Position 7, at large

John Hartsock vs. Amanda Orozco-Beach

John Hartsock is consultant in the construction field and has served on the board since 2015. Amanda Orozco-Beach is server and graduate of Portland State University.

The Outlook: Why do you want to be on the Gresham-Barlow School Board?

Hartsock: The board should serve a pivotal role of setting high goals, building culture and deploying resources where they achieve the best results. Hold the data in front of the community and celebrate successes, but don't be afraid to name the challenges and work toward overcoming them.

Beach: Running for office has always been a dream of mine. I have my bachelors in political science, because I want to make a difference where it really matters. Schools and the students attending them are a reflection of our future and the competitiveness of the future of our country. Schools are becoming more diverse with higher enrollments, and children are feeling like they don't matter in schools, when really they matter a great deal. I will show these students that I see all of them and I will fight to represent them.

The Outlook: What are the two most important things you think the district could do better?

Hartsock: Recognize that trust, morale, and relationships with the community, staff, and students make a difference in keeping children in school. The focus has to be helping students become career ready; decisions on programs and budget have to focus on making that happen. The board and administration have to follow through in everything they say and do; they need to talk about how it makes a difference in getting our children to graduation. Instruction has to be relevant and engaging.

Resources — and there are never enough, nor, will there be — need to be focused on results in instruction that maximize our investment in people, time, and money. Put resources where they will produce results. Measure and report those results.

Beach: The district could do better with classroom sizes and student behavior. Student's need better attention to perform well in schools, and that's asking a lot out of teachers when the classroom sizes are so large. Mental health with K-12 students has never been such an issue until recently and lack of counseling and attention to students is an issue.

The Outlook: For you, what will be the most challenging part of serving on the school board?

Hartsock: Having served on the board for four years I don't find it a challenge, but an opportunity to share and collaborate to enhance and improve the opportunities leading to the success of our students.

Beach: The most challenging part serving on the school board will be learning and understanding budgeting. As a newcomer I have a lot to learn, and I know I will have a lot of sleepless nights making choices when it comes to budget cuts in our already low funded schools.

The Outlook: What is your favorite children's book?

Hartsock: "The Little House" by Virginia Lee Burton.

Beach: "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" by Alvin Schwartz.

The Outlook: How many school-related meetings have you attended?

Hartsock: Approximately 30.

Beach: None to date. I work a lot, and don't attend PTA meetings because I don't have children of my own yet. However, once I am elected I will make time and not miss any meetings.

The Outlook: And what do you do for fun?

Hartsock: Gardening and wood working.

Beach: I enjoy cooking, hiking, writing, reading books and playing video games.


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