In their own words: Meet the Hillsboro School Board candidates
Of the three open seats in this May's school board election, two are uncontested. School board Chairwoman Lisa Allen and appointed school board member Yadira Martinez are running unopposed for their respective seats and are expected to be easily re-elected.
The third open seat is currently held by school board Vice Chairwoman Kim Stelchun, who is not seeking re-election. Two candidates are vying to take her place: Hillsboro orthopedic surgeon Bart Rask and school district volunteer See Eun Kim.
We asked Rask and Kim to answer a few questions about what they'd like to accomplish on the Hillsboro School Board.
Here's what they had to say:
See Eun Kim (skfororegon.com)
Bart Rask (votebartrask.com)
Kim: Kim spent a year teaching third grade at the Academies of Math and Science in Phoenix, Ariz. before moving to Hillsboro. She has family attending Hillsboro schools and is an active volunteer at the school and district level.
Rask: A longtime orthopedic surgeon in Hillsboro, Rask previously ran for the school board in 2015. He has served as the team physician for the Hillsboro High School athletic teams since 1998. He has six children, all of whom attend Hillsboro schools.
Kim: Kim has been endorsed by every sitting member of the Hillsboro School Board, as well as former board member and current state Rep. Janeen Sollman and several members of the Hillsboro City Council, including Hillsboro Mayor Steve Callaway.
Rask: Rask has endorsements from former Hillsboro School Board members Glenn Miller, Monte Akers and Erik Seligman, as well as Hillsboro High School athletic director Steve Drake, former state Sen. Bruce Starr and former Washington County Commissioner Bob Terry. He has also earned the endorsements of Forest Grove School Board member Fred Marble and Independence-area state Rep. Mike Nearman.
Why are you running for school board?
Kim: I am running for Hillsboro School Board to ensure that every student is given access to quality education and equitable opportunities for a successful future. I will bring my ground-level perspective as an educator and child advocate to the district-level decisions that ultimately impact our classrooms and influence our community.
As a third grade teacher, I lived in the tension of overcrowded classrooms and underfunded schools. As a child advocate, I witnessed the wide array of social issues that impact a child's ability to learn. As an aunt of three children in our district, I have seen my nephews and their classmates, particularly those of color and those who come from a disadvantaged background, struggle to keep up with their peers. As the only candidate who has attended board meetings for the last year and who currently serves on district committees (Community Curriculum Advisory Committee, Career and College Pathways Steering Committee), I've worked hard to ensure I can offer a well-rounded perspective to our district community. I am running for Hillsboro School Board to ensure that every student succeeds.
Rask: I'm running for the school board to improve the quality of education for all students.
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?
Kim: The biggest issues coming before the school board are funding and budget cuts. The areas where funding constraints will have the most significant impact on our schools are student health and wellness, class size, and school safety.
There is a growing concern for student health and wellness. Physical, mental, and emotional well-being are essential to students and their ability to achieve at their highest potential. In our quickly advancing society, our students are facing a myriad of social issues without the necessary tools to address them. Learning becomes secondary when students are experiencing family separation, abuse and neglect, housing instability, hunger, or a threat to their safety. Our district can respond by providing support for mental health and social-emotional learning in our schools. We must expand our trauma-informed practices and provide training for our educators to understand how to identify a student who is at-risk.
School safety is an area of vital concern, as are classrooms that are becoming more disruptive. With students being placed in overcrowded classrooms and minimal support for teachers to manage student behavior, we are placing both students and teachers at a disadvantage when it comes to academic achievement. We must lower our class sizes or provide additional personnel support in our larger classrooms. The Joint Committee on Student Success recently released their report emphasizing the need for additional qualified staff in school buildings. With personnel making up 82% of the Hillsboro School District's budget, there simply must be additional funding from the Legislature for the district to hire additional staff.
Student health and wellness, class size, and school safety are the biggest priorities to focus on as a school board member. By being strategic with our funds in these areas, we will improve educational outcomes and overall student success.
Rask: The biggest issue is the declining academic achievement which is already mediocre in Hillsboro despite yearly increases in spending and staffing. The Hillsboro School District (HSD) ranks as slightly below average in student achievement in Oregon which is a below average state. The board should reduce class sizes so teachers can give students more feedback to improve learning, since currently many class assignments are neither evaluated nor corrected. There also needs to be adjustments to the curriculum to improve course content to challenge students with more substantive material.
Another issue is student behavioral problems and classroom disruptions. There were 634 assaults against HSD employees, 65% caused by students. It can take 6 months to get a combative child transferred out of the conventional classroom to a more appropriate environment. We need to streamline this process so children get the help they need sooner and the rest of the class can have fewer distractions from learning.
A looming threat is our PERS debt. HSD owes $117.6 million on 2005 and 2015 bonds and are only paying $1.4 million to service the debt this year. The entire district budget is $40 million. We need to cut less essential services to start paying down these bonds otherwise the interest payments alone will eat away the more essential services. History has proven that our legislators cannot be counted on to help with this problem.
How do you feel about the current direction of the school board? Are there areas the board should focus on? Are there decisions the board has made that you disagree with?
Kim: We can always do more. The board should do more to attract and retain diverse and talented teachers to reflect our student population. The board should do more to prioritize high-quality core curricula and robust Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) education. And the board should do more to provide social-emotional learning supports for students.
I disagree with the 2019-20 Budget Reduction Recommendations that were passed by our Budget Committee. In these Recommendations, the district proposed to increase class sizes by additional two students in grades 3 through 12 beginning next school year. With classrooms already overcrowded and teachers overburdened, bigger classrooms will likely diminish the quality of education. Additionally, the Recommendations proposed to reduce the number of teachers and classified staff which will again diminish the quality of education. I also think it is a mistake not to invest more in STEAM education, which is immensely beneficial for preparing our students to be competitive in our global economy.
As a board member, I will prioritize academic achievement and student success. I will work to ensure that all students are given opportunities from the beginning of their educational journey through Early Childhood Education to the end through Career and Technical Education (CTE). I will fight to allocate funding so that more dollars are reaching the classroom and improving the quality of education that our students are receiving. In addition, investing in teachers is an essential component to student success. Therefore, I will invest in teachers by implementing an effective strategy to recruit and retain teachers who are talented and committed to equity.
Rask: The direction of the board needs improvement. When funds are limited, there needs to be more of a focus on cutting less important programs and staff to free up resources for the classroom. The board allows cuts that are too often inflicted on teachers while non-teachers are spared. For example, it is being proposed that some special education teachers have their hours reduced from 7 to 6 hours per day to balance the budget. Teaching time should be the last item cut in a budget. The Oregon Dept. of Education reports (staff fte report 2017-18-2) that 42.5% of HSD staff are non-teachers. That's 28.4 non-teachers per school for each of the 36 schools! For comparison, the Forest Grove School District staff is only 24% non-teachers and 11.6 non-teachers per school. There is plenty of opportunity to cut non-teaching staff when the budget is less than desired.
High school graduates rates run the gamut in Hillsboro. While Century High School's graduation rate is about 90%, Hillsboro High School hovers at about 80% and the Hillsboro Online at 66%. What should the district be doing to address this issue?
Kim: I will work to achieve 100% graduation rates at all high schools, including our Online Academy. In order to address the graduation rates in Hillsboro, we must focus on three things: 1) we have to understand the needs of our students, 2) we have to assess the effectiveness of our schools, including all of our programs, and 3) we must expand our Career and Technical Education (CTE).
In order to address graduation rates as a school board member, I will identify the reasons and trends of graduation rates at each school. I will evaluate the demographics and attendance. By looking into the demographics of each school, we will learn what the differing needs are of our student population. We can tailor our programing and services to be unique to each school that we serve. Attendance is often a precursor to engagement, academic success, and graduation. Therefore, we need to support students and families who are frequently absent and miss invaluable instructional days.
I will work to create a supportive atmosphere for relationships between staff and students as they move from middle school to high school. Transitioning from middle school to high school is a big change for all students that is often accompanied by more personal responsibility, increased pressure, and the potential for disengagement. We can work with students individually and provide academic support by creating supportive relationships with teachers, counselors, and mentors.
I also support the expansion of CTE and wellness counselors who support at-risk students by keeping them engaged in school. Hillsboro School District has expanded CTE and graduation supports for students with Measure 98 funding. I will advocate expanding both if Measure 98 is fully funded in the future. I am committed to achieving 100% graduation rates by focusing on student needs, effective programming, and expansion of CTE.
Rask: Graduation may be improved with smaller classes so students get more feedback on their homework. After school programs for tutoring and small group teaching may be helpful for many, especially those with a poor home environment.
I'm ambivalent about the effectiveness of graduation coaches since often the approach is getting students to re-take tests or homework assignments to allow passage. Allowing this make-up work essentially lowers the standards for graduation since part of showing good academic performance is doing your work in a timely fashion and taking tests without having previously seen the questions.
The poor performance of the Online School could be a mixed bag. It could be that a disproportionate number of academically poor students elect to attend the Online School. Would this group of children have a lower graduation rate in a conventional class? Are the resources used in the online program preventing the more effective use of resources elsewhere? Two of my sons tried the online school each for a half a school year. They were nearly straight-A students before the online school while both had GPAs of less than 2.0 while there. After resuming the conventional classroom, they are both back getting about a 3.8 GPA. My sons explained that although teachers are available sometimes for questions, they weren't as readily available as in the standard classroom. Neither had the self-discipline for a self-paced learning program. I'm inclined to abandon it unless I could be convinced otherwise.
School boards have said for years that Oregon doesn't fund education properly, but despite several former teachers now representing Hillsboro in the Capitol, Building, we still face budget cuts. What are ways the district can move this conversation forward in a meaningful way?
Kim: Oregon's schools have been underfunded for over three decades. It will take time and collective effort to bring about change. During this legislative session, legislators have a landmark opportunity to pass meaningful revenue reform to fully fund our schools. Hillsboro's legislators and school board members have been active in that conversation, and I'm optimistic that we will finally get the investments we need for our schools. I have attended legislative town halls, events in Salem, and other community events with current board members where we are advocating for stable and adequate funding. I will continue to advocate when I am elected to the board. With the collective effort of parents, students, and a strong Hillsboro School Board, I believe that we will have an impact and move the needle this legislative session.
Without added investments this session, our district will need to continue to focus on strict budgeting principles to maximize impact in the classrooms and improve learning outcomes. That's why we need to highlight the voices of teachers, parents, students, business leaders, community members, and members of the board to advocate for adequate and stable funding. We need a broad coalition advocating for a common goal - a fully funded classroom. If the Legislature does not pass the Student Success Act this session, I will engage a broad coalition to ensure Hillsboro, beyond the school board, is a voice for students until our schools are finally fully funded.
Rask: My focus as a school board member would be to try to do the best with the resources we have. There are enough people lobbying the legislature on our behalf. Since 42.5% of the FTEs are non-teachers, I think there is room to cut some of the less important non-teaching staff. We also need to prioritize some of the elective classes offered, some of which may have to be cut to free teachers to dilute the more important classes. Why we pay for a class in American Cinema/American Culture when my sophomore has 40 kids in his geometry class makes no sense!
Hillsboro is a diverse district, not just racially, but economically. This is reflected in state test scores, where show schools in poorer neighborhoods falling behind those in more affluent areas. What can the district do to help struggling schools and close the achievement gap?
Kim: It is vital that our district continue to examine each school and identify the best strategies to address the varying needs of our students and families. As a Korean immigrant, I understand the nuances of engaging with English Language Learners and their families whose home culture is vastly different from the expectations of our American education system. I understand first-hand from my experience, as an immigrant student and a classroom teacher later in life, what it takes to ensure success for all students.
In order to close the achievement gap, we need to support diverse learners in the classrooms by using varied and effective instruction strategies. Tests and other information on student performance will be helpful in guiding instructional planning and improving practices across the district. We need to enhance cultural awareness and competency in our schools by providing training to educators to take into consideration a student's' home culture and family dynamic.
It's crucial that our work to close the achievement gap extends beyond the classroom. We need to provide comprehensive support for our most vulnerable students by working with community agencies, medical, and social services. We can identify students who need additional instructional support and provide mentors, peer support groups, and tutoring. Hillsboro is blessed with many non-profits that are willing and able to lend a helping hand to support our students, we need to take advantage of the resources within our community to support the most vulnerable.
The district has made significant progress in serving our underserved communities by passing the Educational Equity Policy that commits the district to closing the opportunity gap. The district has provided access to Early Childhood Learning, Family Liaisons for families who don't speak English at home, and translation services at district-wide meetings.
Rask: Children that are doing academically poorly need extra help. The extra help can be in the form of lower class sizes and/or after school tutoring or other small group instruction.
Overcrowded classes are nothing new in Hillsboro, but with no money to hire new teachers, what can the district do to ensure students are receiving the attention they deserve?
Kim: In order to ensure that our students are receiving the attention they deserve, we need to effectively train and empower our current teachers who have daily interaction with our students. Investing in the success of our teachers will benefit students in a multitude of ways because it leads to high quality teachers who are committed to the district and the educational outcomes of their students. We must empower teachers by providing adequate training and mentorship, evidence-based strategies to gather feedback and improve student engagement, and practical support to improve classroom environment.
Teachers need support, especially early on in their career, to learn best practices and develop their own practical skills in classroom management. As a district, we can provide streamlined trainings and professional development opportunities that are timely and applicable. Additionally, we can empower teachers by providing practical support including tools to monitor student engagement during class, feedback mechanisms between the teacher and students, and extra support for escalated issues.
There are also efficiencies we can build using evidence-based strategies to gather feedback and improve student engagement. Using data will allow us to understand where students are, how they're progressing, and how teachers can tailor their instruction to meet the students' individual needs. As a district, we can invest in tools, models, and even technology to help teachers so that every teacher isn't reinventing the wheel and to keep students engaged.
Rask: There are three ways classroom size can be lowered without increased cost. First, I would change from block scheduling to standard scheduling. Block scheduling involves class lengths of 90 minutes instead of the standard 55 minutes. Changing back to standard scheduling would allow one teacher to teach 6 classes a day instead of 3. The cost would be that students have a 7 class schedule instead of 8. The second way is to reduce the less essential non-teaching staff. Currently there are 28.3 FTEs of non-teachers per school. The hard choice needs to be made about which of these positions is more important than a teacher. The third way to relieve overcrowding is by eliminating less important classes. My high school junior has 35 kids in his English Language Arts class at Liberty while there are 3 different classes offered in ceramics. All Advisory and Freshman Exploration courses should also be abandoned since these classes do not involve any structured learning of substantive material. We need to prioritize.
By Geoff Pursinger
Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
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