509-J candidates debate district issues during forum
Communication, community engagement and the relationship with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs were common themes during the Jefferson County School District 509-J Board candidate forum Thursday evening.
The Madras-Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce facilitated the April 8 forum for the four candidates who are vying for two of the open school board positions during the May 18 special district election.
}Incumbent Jamie Hurd will face Lorien Stacona for position 2. Jaylyn Suppah and Jacob Struck are running for position 3, the seat currently held by Tom Norton Jr. Incumbent and 509-J Board Chair Laurie Danzuka is running unopposed for position 1.
Chamber Executive Director Joe Krenowicz asked community-generated questions of the four contested candidates during the event, which was held at the Performing Arts Center and also livestreamed on Facebook. Each candidate was asked a randomly drawn question in each round. At the end of each round, candidates chose to answer one additional question that the other candidates had addressed.
Suppah, of Warm Springs, joined remotely through Zoom. She is a community planner with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and a member of multiple education-related boards at the local, state and national levels. She currently manages a program that focuses on school dropout prevention, high school and career/college readiness, and trauma-informed, culturally relevant curriculum development. She has two young children and believes it is important for everyone to understand the history of Indigenous people.
She says tribal consultation is one of the major issues the school district faces and that there should be more engagement in the process. The Memorandum of Understanding between 509-J and the tribes is another issue. Suppah said the MOU is out of date and the two organizations are looking to sign a 25-year MOU.
"Luckily, I am being engaged in that process because I am running and I am heavily involved in Warm Springs," she said, noting that it's concerning that she served on the tribal education committee four years ago and the MOU is still being discussed.
Suppah also said the COVID-19 pandemic is another major issue for the district, and it highlighted a lot of gaps in the educational system.
A board will know if its goals are being accomplished if members conduct a self-evaluation and reflect upon how they are leading, Suppah said. She would like to update outdated board policies. She believes a school board member should have integrity, fairness, an equity lens, a willingness to listen, an awareness of their own biases, and be willing to engage with everybody, not just their own circles.
"A school board member's role is to listen to the community, to engage with the community, to listen to our teachers," Suppah said. "The superintendent's role is to take back the decisions of the board and implement them."
Suppah is running against Struck, a fellow 2005 Madras High School graduate. Struck, of Madras, has three young children and is a project superintendent with Skanska USA Building. While operating his business, he was approached by 509-J to start a construction Career and Technical Education program at Madras High School. He then taught CTE classes there for two years.
"Through that experience, it opened up my eyes and it changed my life to understand the effects of poverty on our students. It affects so many aspects of their life," Struck said. "Some of the most damage I saw was broken families."
He wants to help improve family engagement with those in poverty and help them understand that their education can propel them into the future and pull them out of the cycle of poverty. He also believes instilling the value consistent attendance is important for improving student performance among Warm Springs students.
Struck said school board members will know if their goals are being accomplished and their policies are being implemented by listening and being part of the community and also collecting student performance data.
He said some big district issues include getting students back on track after COVID forced students to be away from classrooms, bringing in the new superintendent and board members, and staff retention. Struck believes board members should have a servant attitude, humility and be good listeners. They are to be the voice of every demographic, while a superintendent is to make sure board goals and policies are implemented.
"I want to see the community thrive and grow and do the best it can," Struck said. "I want to help the district continue improvement and have teachers stay here and enjoy it."
Stacona, of Warm Springs, works as a case manager for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, where she assists community members with goal setting and connects them to local and regional resources that will help them achieve their goals. She has three children.
She lists communication, transparency, following up and supporting as top priorities for the district.
"I want to make sure everybody has a voice at that table," Stacona said of the school board level. "We're neighbors. We have to do better for all of our children."
She says she's tired of district surveys and believes there needs to be different methods of engaging with the 509-J community.
"When we have communication, things flow better and our kids are served better," Stacona said, noting that communication is the largest social need between Warm Springs and the school district.
She believes district staff needs training to better understand tribal history. Taking care of staff will encourage them to stay with the district.
Stacona says she is one of the Warm Springs parents who complains about the cultural relevant methods not being used in the schools – a common complaint from tribal and Latino families. She noted the importance of board members coming to the school and community and listening to staff, families and students and not just communicating with tribal leaders.
"We communicate, so showing up to have conversations with us on how we can address needs is important, not just a survey or coming to see us once a year," she said.
Stacona says she could support a board decision even if she did not vote in favor of it, saying, "I am a leader. I make decisions based on what the people want, not just what I want."
Stacona faces Hurd in the election. Hurd has served on the school board for nearly four years and has three children. At one time, she worked as a wildlife biologist for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. She has served on multiple community boards and committees, including the Madras Aquatic Center, Every Child Matters and MADras Runners. She says she's rerunning because of the students.
"They are the biggest investment in our future," she said. "I want for all of our kids to go into our schools and feel loved, supported and respected and just excited about learning so that when their K-12 experience is over, they can go out into this world and be well-rounded and be ready to take it on."
Hurd said top district priorities include supporting students, family and staff on the other side of COVID, making sure resources, the budget and goals align so the district can move forward after the pandemic. As the district brings in new superintendent Jay Mathisen, she wants to make sure he gets a strong connection in this community. She also wants to increase learning opportunities.
"A top goal is community communication," Hurd said about how to engage with the community. She noted visiting schools and presenting district updates to various government and service organizations.
Hurd said the district has worked hard to serve students with diverse backgrounds and high rates of poverty. This includes a Family Access Network advocate and Hispanic, Native and homeless student liaisons.
"We work really hard to provide a lot of training for our staff around equity, interventions and support so that our staff can have collaborative support and come around our students at different levels," she said. "It's essential that we remove any barriers that would keep them from learning in our schools."
April 27 is the last day to register to vote in the May 18 Special District Election. Ballots will be mailed in a prepaid return envelope to Oregon mailing address on April 28. Ballots must be returned by 8 p.m. May 18.
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