Endorsement: Kim is the advocate schools need
Four candidates are on the ballot this year for the Hillsboro School Board, but with two incumbents running unopposed, there is only one race that voters need to focus their attention on.
The race between See Eun Kim and Bart Rask has generated a lot of letters to the editor in this newspaper, and both candidates have a lot of good to offer the community.
See Eun (whose name is pronounced "she-in," for those not fluent in Korean) hasn't lived in Hillsboro long, but she's clearly made a name for herself in the short time she's been here. She's an active volunteer in Hillsboro schools even though she has no children of her own — she has family enrolled in the district — and has been a classroom and district volunteer in Hillsboro for the past few years.
Kim also serves on Hillsboro's Arts and Culture Council and Washington County Civic Leaders. She works as a court-appointed special advocate representing neglected foster children in the state's custody.
It's a lengthy resume for anyone, let alone someone barely into their 20s.
Kim worked as a third-grade teacher in Arizona for one year while her husband, Portland attorney Thomas Kim, attended law school. She and her supporters have touted her experience in the classroom as one of her big selling points and she told us she saw the struggles teachers had to face first-hand as she dealt with over-crowded classrooms and a lack of school funding.
That experience is impressive, though we'd have liked her to have had a few more years of teaching under her belt if she were going to make her former teacher-cred the focal point of her campaign. But the fact that she saw a problem and is working her way up the system to address it is admirable, and we're glad to see her in this race. It reminds us of other teachers-turned-elected officials, like Rep. Susan McLain or Courtney Neron, the former Tigard-Tualatin teacher now representing portions of south Hillsboro and Scholls in the Oregon House.
Her opponent, Rask, is a longtime Hillsboro resident and well known orthopedic surgeon in the area. He has spent years working to help the district, and his commitment to Hillsboro students is unquestioned. He has served as the team physician for Hillsboro High School athletic teams since 1998 and ran for the school board in 2015. He has served on the Hillsboro Schools Citizens' curriculum advisory committee and was appointed by Ted Kulongoski and John Kitzhaber to the Oregon Public Health Division board. All six of his children attend Hillsboro schools.
Rask's big issues are practical. He wants to see more student achievement, says behavioral issues in classrooms need to be addressed and wants to cut programs to pay down our PERS debt.
In an age of ever-dwindling state funding, Rask is rolling up his sleeves and getting to work. Hard times mean hard choices, and he talks honestly and openly about the cuts Hillsboro needs to make, including cutting some non-teaching staff and some elective courses. By moving teachers from electives to more core subjects, he says, we can lower class sizes. Other changes, like switching from 90-minute classes to one-hour classes, would lower class sizes even more.
"Why we pay for a class in American cinema/American culture when my sophomore has 40 kids in his geometry class makes no sense," he told us.
He's right, too. The district does need to make hard decisions about budget cuts, and those conversations are contentious and painful. It's important to have someone on the board who sees that.
But in the end, we're endorsing Kim for this seat. Her focus on taking the issues to Salem in every meaningful way is important. The Hillsboro School District is one of the largest in the state, and throwing its weight around more in Salem is the only way we'll see change. She's not afraid to advocate for kids at every level.
School funding is, far and away, the biggest issue facing school districts across the state, but it's also an area school boards have almost no say in. Teacher walkouts planned for next week have closed Hillsboro, Forest Grove, Beaverton, Portland and dozens of other schools across the region, but that's a drastic step to get the attention of lawmakers whom teachers say haven't been listening.
Kim wants to take the fight to Salem. Rask wants to stay out of state politics.
"My focus as a school board member would be to try to do the best with the resources we have," he told us. "There are enough people lobbying the Legislature on our behalf."
That's a viewpoint we can sympathize with, but with Oregon graduation rates some of the lowest in the country, it's important that something change. If that momentum doesn't come from Salem, it must come from our schools and our teachers.
Both candidates have their strong points. Rask would bring some much-needed counterpoint to a school board made up of largely progressive members who tend to agree on most subjects. Kim has dived head-first into the issues. We've seen her everywhere, and she's making it clear that she wants to get involved in this community in a big way. Her work with underprivileged kids and her background as a Korean immigrant provide great points of view to a board that's still largely white in a community that includes a racially and economically diverse student body.
Kim told us she wants young teachers to have more trainings and professional development, she wants the district to invest in tools and models to help teachers track how students are progressing and she disagrees with the current school board's plans to increase class size.
"I will invest in teachers by implementing an effective strategy to recruit and retain teachers who are talented and committed to equity," she said.
Two other candidates running for office in Hillsboro don't need help from us to get elected.
Board Chairwoman Lisa Allen has been on the school board for four years and is currently running for her second term. Fellow incumbent Yadira Martinez was appointed to the board more than a year ago after the resignation of Wayne Clift; having finished out his term, she's seeking four years of her own on the board. Both are running unopposed and are expected to claim easy victory on May 21.
Either Rask or Kim would serve the school district with honor, but we're asking voters to elect Kim, whose worldview, work background and desire to advocate for the youth of this district make us positive she's a great pick for this tough, thankless job.