Kim Sordyl, known for being an active and vocal critic of Portland Public Schools, will sit on the State Board of Education beginning this week.

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Kim Sordyl, a Northwest Portland parent and longtime critic of Portland Public Schools, will now sit on the State Board of Education as a nonvoting member. Kim Sordyl, known for being an active and vocal critic of Portland Public Schools, will now have a much larger microphone as she steps in to speak for the Secretary of State on the Oregon State Board of Education.

Sordyl, a Northwest Portland resident, supported Secretary of State Dennis Richardson in his campaign, including a promotional video.

She said she was surprised when Richardson called her Monday to say he'd learned that he could appoint someone to the board and thought of her.

See previous coverage: Kim Sordyl: Mean girl or champion?

"It's still sinking in," Sordyl said. "It's going to be a big learning curve on a lot of issues."

Michael Calcagno, a spokesman for Richardson, allowed that the urban pro-choice woman could be seen as an unusual mouthpiece for a rural Republican conservative.

"It's funny, right? Because she's a Democrat," Calcagno said. But he stressed that the two agree on many issues when it comes to a focus on children's needs, open government and equitable education outcomes. "The overarching theme (that they share is the) success, or the need for success, in the lives of Oregon's youngest citizens."

Sordyl agreed.

"We agree that we're here to educate students, not make things easier for administrators," she said.

The State Board of Education rules on policies and procedures for Oregon's 197 districts and 20 education service districts. There are seven voting positions appointed by the Governor and approved by the State Senate. There are also two non-voting positions appointed by the Secretary of State and the State Treasurer, but these have recently been vacant.

"Dennis very much appreciates Kim's vocal advocacy to improve our students' outcomes," Calcagno said. "He understands that she has been holding Portland Public Schools accountable for significant issues and challenges that they've been having."

Sordyl has been a vocal critic of the district's management practices, particularly in human resources. An employment attorney turned stay-at-home mom, she first got involved in district politics when she tried to help a fellow parent file a complaint and was frustrated at the concerns being dismissed by then-Regional Administrator Sascha Perrins. (Perrins, it was recently reported, will soon be second-in-command at the district when Chief of Staff Amanda Whalen leaves Feb. 10.)

Since then, Sordyl has become a lightning rod for discontent in the district, calling for many top administrators to step down — and many have, including longtime Superintendent Carole Smith. She has also clashed with board members over public records and demanded transparency, including in the district's recent bungling of the lead-in-water crisis. Sordyl grew up in Flint, Michigan, where thousands of children have been exposed to high levels of lead in the water.

Most recently, Sordyl has said through online comments that she doesn't want the state to waive instructional hour requirements due to the many snow days in the region.

That will be a topic up for a vote at her first meeting on Thursday.

Shasta Kearns Moore
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