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Two months after Ines Pena's resignation, board appoints successor for Zone 4 spot

The Newberg School District is no longer minus one school board member.

On April 12, the board appointed Raquel Peregrino de Brito as Ines Pena's successor for Zone 4.

Pena resigned in February after months of political division in the school district, citing a toxic work environment, among other complaints.

Chairman Dave Brown, vice-chairman Brian Shannon and directors Trevor DeHart and Renee Powell voted to appoint Peregrino de Brito to the position, while directors Rebecca Piros and Brandy Penner voted no.

John Read, who is self-employed and has a child attending Newberg High School, and Suzan Huntington, president and CEO of nonprofit organization Boys and Girls Aid, were the other two applicants for the position. Piros and Penner favored Huntington, but were overruled by the other board members.Peregrino de Brito

"I am honored to have been selected among very qualified candidates to serve our community," Peregrino de Brito said in a school district release. "I will bring my skills and experience serving on nonprofit boards of directors with the goal of helping improve our district for all: students, staff and parents."

She added that she, "will listen to all voices of our community and will not be partisan in my comments and my votes" and "collaborate with all directors and with our superintendent with open, honest and respectful dialogue."

Born and raised in Brazil, where she worked as a dentist, Peregrino de Brito immigrated to the United States in 2005, having studied abroad in Texas while in high school. Peregrino de Brito is trilingual, speaking Portuguese, Spanish and English.

Peregrino de Brito lives with her husband, son and daughter in Newberg and works in regulatory affairs at a local dental manufacturing company.

As for volunteer work, she serves as the secretary of Newberg Early Bird Rotary and Rota-Dent, which provides low-cost dental supplies to people in need.

Peregrino de Brito said she became interested in what was happening in the school district once she and her family moved to Dundee in 2015. That interest continued when she moved to Newberg last year. When she heard about Pena's resignation, Peregrino de Brito said she saw it as an opportunity to make a difference in the school district. She said her main goal is improving the quality of the school district's education, with a heavy focus on math proficiency and reading comprehension.

Additionally, Peregrino de Brito said schools should set students up for the next step in their careers, whether that be college, trade school or another niche interest.

"(Students need) just a more rounded learning," she said, adding that she's heard many children are no longer learning to read or write in cursive, a skill she pointed out is necessary to read old documents like the Constitution.

"So, I would hope to (have an) influence on the decision-making that will make these assets, these resources, available for the children of Newberg," Peregrino de Brito said.

If she sees improvement, Peregrino de Brito said she would consider enrolling her children, especially her son, in public high school. As of now, both her kids attend C.S Lewis Academy, a small K-12 Christian private school.

"If the education improves (in the school district), he (my son) will definitely do a trial there …," Peregrino de Brito said, adding that public high schools offer more electives and greater opportunities for friendships.

Overall, she said she would love for her kids to have a normal American high school experience, which she received as an exchange student.

"It was wonderful," Peregrino de Brito said. "It was so different from where I went to school back in Brazil. And I would love my kids to also have that experience."

Appointment sparks controversy

Even before Peregrino de Brito was selected as Pena's replacement, her candidacy was the subject of heated debate between the majority and minority members on the board.

During the interview process, Piros had asked Peregrino de Brito about a statement she made last year in favor of the board's controversial ban on political symbols in classrooms and how she plans to unite both sides of the issue.

Peregrino de Brito said she understands people have different perspectives and a right to live how they choose, but that she believes the focus of education should be on academics and preparing kids for the future.

Despite endorsements from Powell, who made a motion to appoint Peregrino de Brito, and Shannon, who seconded the motion, Penner questioned whether Peregrino de Brito was the right fit.

"I am fearful that filling this position with somebody who is very deeply linked with some of the political activity in the community could really further divide us," Penner said.

"You want someone that's not involved in the community?" Shannon said. "It sounds like you are criticizing her for being politically active in our community, and that's a weird line to draw for people who have all run for political office."

Penner said that was not the line she was drawing and that the board simply needs a person who can foster unity.

"Unfortunately, I don't think Raquel would be able to do that," she said.

Peregrino de Brito said she also has since received online backlash from the community.

"People who don't know me are making some assumptions and judgments that are just, 'Wow,'" she said, adding that she hasn't "even done anything yet" to warrant these attacks.

For instance, Peregrino de Brito said someone online even called her a "defrocked dentist," even though her license is still valid in Brazil.

"I may be sad by these types of comments, but I'm not going to be deterred from doing what I think is best for the students of Newberg," she said.

Conscious of the divided community she will be serving, Peregrino de Brito said she intends to listen to all different perspectives and not add to the negativity.

"I like coming to the middle, and saying, 'Hey, you like blue, I like red, how about we get purple?'" She said, adding that she also believes "people have a right to their opinion … even if you don't like their opinion."

"I respect people's right to their opinion, even when I don't respect their opinion, and I would like that to be both ways," Peregrino de Brito said, explaining that people have called her names for disagreeing with them.

"Let's talk about the issue, and what the issue is, what the facts are, what the data is and how we can solve it," she said. "And if you don't like my facts, my data and then you call me a fill-in the blank because I present the data, then it's going to be hard to come to the middle."

Overall, Peregrino de Brito said she is thankful for the opportunity to serve on the board and "will do my best to represent the voters of my district."

"I know that I was not voted (into the position), I was appointed, and by a majority that was (partially) retained by a recall," Peregrino de Brito said. "So, while there may be an impression that this was not fair, it was a process that we have today."

She added that her email is open to everyone, although she would like to primarily receive "emails with constructive criticism and suggestions and desires."

"And if you want to bash me, that's fine, too," Peregrino de Brito said. "But what's the point?"

Peregrino said that she hopes to see the Newberg-Dundee community continue to become a better place.

"And the way we can do that for the future is to have a vision for schools to be a place where kids are really learning and really focusing on how to better themselves and how to be proficient in their life," she said.

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