Candidates for two seats on the Jefferson County 509-J School District Board of Directors sat down to answer questions from the public at a forum put on by the Madras-Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce April 24.
The five candidates — all profiled in last week's Pioneer — include incumbent Courtney Snead, of Madras, and Casandra Moses, of Warm Springs, who are vying for Position 4, and Carina Miller, of Warm Springs, and Taylor Lark and Kevin Richards, both of Madras, for Position 5.
Asked what is going well in the 509-J district, and what needs improved, Moses, 36, who is working on a master's program of training and human resources development, said that after moving to Madras with her family, she recently moved back to Warm Springs.
"As we moved, we noticed things done differently at different schools," she said, adding that the variation is too much for schools within the same district.
On a positive note, she said, "The superintendent is really involved."
Miller, 31, a member of the Warm Springs Tribal Council, was impressed with the district's career and technical education programs. "When I was in school, they had them; now they're back," she said.
She would like to see an end to the district's cycle of receiving low scores and rankings, gaining grant funding and bringing scores up, and then losing the funding.
Richards, 37, who returned to Madras to farm in 2013, after serving as the director of regulatory affairs for the American Farm Bureau Federation, in Washington, D.C., has also been pleased with the progress the district has made on CET programs.
"We are a rural, predominantly blue collar community," he said. "The students who are engaged in those programs should have a relationship with the community."
Lark, 33, the founder and president of a software company, who moved to Madras more than eight years ago, has been impressed with teachers as he has visited local schools.
"The teachers that are here are really invested; they want to be here," he said.
He would like to see the district spend more time listening to the teachers. "Sometimes, they feel like their voices aren't heard," said Lark, adding that while "kids are the No. 1 priority," teachers are the people who help the students achieve their goals.
A board member for the past four years, Snead, 37, is proud of the growth of student achievement in the district, late-start Mondays, and the Futures Center, where volunteers mentor students.
As a mentor, she is seeing more students figuring out what they want to do and applying for scholarships. She would like to see a teaching staff that more closely reflects the students. "Maybe they'll choose to come back here," she said.
Following the question and answer period, each candidate had a chance to make a final statement.
Noting that he's "not a politician," Lark said that a lot of people really care about the district."
As a person who deals with data and makes recommendations on that data on a daily basis, Lark said, "I think it's important to have someone that's data savvy. It's important that we understand all the data we get, so we make the right choices."
Moses — whose father is a Mexican immigrant, who worked in the fields, and mother, a Native American — was a teen mother who worked and raised her daughter.
"I want to represent the people who aren't willing to be here," she said.
As a Native American who attended local schools, Miller said that her experience matters. "A lot of things need to change," she said. "There were things I needed to overcome in this community. I have experience, and I've proved it."
With everything she has learned, Miller said, "I do feel like I have a voice."
Richards said that it's "heartening," that there are five well-qualified candidates for the two seats.
"I have a tool set, a familiarity with the community," he said. "I could contribute a lot to the community. What my approach would be is to listen."
The five candidates will be among dozens on the May 21 Special Districts Election ballot, which will be mailed out May 1.
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