Lake Oswego School Board candidates speak at community forum
All four Lake Oswego School Board candidates took the virtual stage in a student-moderated candidate forum Tuesday, April 27.
The forum, which was hosted by the Lake Oswego Sustainability Network and Respond to Racism, was organized to give the community a chance to meet the candidates and hear their thoughts on issues relating to diversity, equity, inclusion and sustainability in schools.
Linda Ganzini from LOSN said they hosted the forum to help voters make informed choices. Willie Poinsette from Respond to Racism added that the groups care deeply about the community and the schools by extension.
Present at the event were Neelam Gupta, Brian Bills, Liz Hartman and Jini Stupak. Gupta and Bills are running unopposed for positions 2 and 3 on the board, respectively, while Stupak and Hartman are running for position 4.
The questions were presented by high school students Deeya Arora, Barbara Chen, Nate Foster and Victoria Hutchinson.
Each candidate, aside from questions, had time for introductions and closing statements.
The students asked a series of questions ranging from what candidates will do to further diversity, equity and inclusion to how they think their colleagues would describe them and what in the past has shaped their views on sustainability.
One question asked the candidates to share how they would encourage student activism and ensure student voices are heard.
Gupta was asked to kick off this round of answers.
"I firmly believe that we need to be centered as a school district in student voice," Gupta said. She said that students are the ones having day-to-day school experiences and used the land acknowledgement committee, which was formed as the result of a student emailing the school board, as an example of student voices making a difference.
One moderator shared students' ongoing experience with racism and detailed how students get little to no support from their teachers and administrators. With that in mind they asked what each candidate would do to further anti-racism in schools.
Stupak, who is a 23-year-old person of color, said she recently looked back at her high school yearbook and was saddened to see racist language used in notes to her in her yearbook, which at the time seemed completely normal.
"I hope if a teacher ever hears anything like that, they'd stop it immediately and explain it — not in a really combative way but explaining why that's probably not the most kind or good thing to point out," she said.
Candidates were told that as school board members, they will have to interact with people who have different ideas and views than them. They were asked how they've worked through challenges in the past.
Hartman started off this round of answers.
"I find listening is the best way to work through those because in our district, no matter how much you may not agree, you will find things that you have agreement on," Hartman said. She said having varied perspectives guides decision-making.
"It's a must to listen. You can't be on the school board and not listen to people," she said.
Bills pulled from his legal background.
"One of the things you learn as a transactional attorney is how to negotiate and find compromise," he said.
Bills added that the key is to be patient and listen, and he's learned the same thing in his work as a business owner.
"If you are patient and you listen, you're objective and fair in your analysis. Compromising and resolution is usually close," he said.
As the forum came to a close, all candidates thanked the event coordinators for giving them the opportunity to share.
The Lake Oswego School Board election is May 18.
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