Candidates queue up for board seats at Portland Public Schools
This year's Portland Public Schools Board election would've been like any other if not for Zone 4, which represents North Portland.
Rita Moore, the current director, is not running for re-election this May.
At one point, the Zone 4 race had seven candidates on record. Four people have since dropped out of the race, leaving Margo Logan, Brooklyn Sherman and Herman Greene to appear on the ballot. Another candidate, Jaime Golden Cale, announced she will run as a write-in candidate for Zone 4.
The wild fluctuation in that race happened quickly. Shortly before the election filing deadline in March, Logan, who's been public about her opposition to COVID-19 mask mandates, was the only candidate in the race. Soon afterward, Sherman, a Portland State University student, also filed for the seat. Five other candidates trickled in just before the deadline and all but one appeared to pull out of the race nearly as quickly as they entered.
In all, eight candidates will appear on the May Special District Election ballot for three seats. PPS board directors are elected district-wide, meaning voters elect candidates for all zones on the ballot, not just the ones they live in. This year, only one incumbent is running for re-election.
Candidates are largely campaigning on the district's shortcomings and history of perceived public failures. Portland Public Schools has had to mitigate lead in school drinking water pipes, coming up short on projects paid for by voter-approved bonds, disparity in outcomes among students of color, unpopular enrollment balancing and boundary changes, staff controversy and more.
Here is a breakdown of each candidate's priorities and vision for the district.
Herman Greene is a church pastor and longtime school volunteer with a background in nonprofit development. His four children graduated from PPS and one of his daughters is a teacher at Roosevelt High School.
Key issues: While other candidates have pointed to recent issues within PPS as evidence of the need for change, Green's approach is more holistic, but light on specifics.
Greene said he launched his campaign because he wants to empower more people to take part in district decisions, and see that all students have the same access and opportunities to education and enrichment activities.
"All the work I've always done is to make sure people always have a voice," Greene said. "I want to make sure that same thing is shared with all students. I want people to realize the value of who they are and what they bring to the table. If we can change that, we can create a society that doesn't have boundaries. I want to make sure that as our young people are going through the school system, they're going through a system that pushes them to push the boundaries of their minds and explore what's possible."
The candidate pointed to a need for greater community engagement and involvement.
"We've got the bonds and the stuff we're doing with the school and we say we want to help the kids, but there were spaces I felt that wasn't holding true," Greene said, touching on his long tenure of volunteer hours at Roosevelt High School. "I didn't see the staff and teachers being fully supported. My motto is, I'm not going to do anything for you without you. I haven't been seeing a lot of that. I see a lot of well-intended people doing well-intended things but often the people who are impacted by these things aren't at the table."
Greene said his own experiences have shaped his decision to run for school board.
"I grew up going and standing in line to get food boxes," he said. "I grew up in a space where if I had been limited to what I saw around me, I would've been stuck."
On racial equity and social justice:
Greene said he sees the need for greater buy-in at all district levels.
"Restorative justice can't be one-sided," Greene said. "The issue I saw is this can only work if it's a whole system thinking, versus an individual or school thinking. Those types of efforts have to start from the top down. Often times the people at the top don't want to participate and the people at the bottom are left dealing with their feelings because the people at the top say 'I don't have the time for this.'"
Margo Logan is a licensed social worker with a background in child and family services. She said she's worked in several schools as an aide.
Key issues: Logan told Pamplin Media Group last month she filed to run because she's worried about the safety of children in school. Specifically, she said schools are often ill-equipped to manage the chaotic environment of several students together. She also feels school districts "cover up" sex abuse of students by staff. Logan also said in early March that schools should have reopened without mask requirements.
"We know, first of all, that no children have died," Logan said. The Oregon Health Authority reported in January that a 19-year-old died from COVID-19, but no one under the age of 18 has died from the virus in Oregon.
Logan also told Pamplin Media Group that she went around to several hospitals early on in the pandemic and observed "empty emergency rooms." PMG could not verify those statements, but hospitals routinely limited entry to patients, denying visitor entry in an effort to reduce the risk and spread of COVID-19.
When Logan ran for seat in the Oregon House of Representatives in 2020, she borrowed a popular phrase from the conspiracy theorist website QAnon for her statement in the voters' pamphlet. In February, she lobbied fellow members of the Multnomah Republican Party to crusade around the city and go into businesses without masks, dubbing it the "mask free musketeer squad."
While Logan has downplayed the severity of the pandemic and called COVID-19 a "non-emergency" she voiced concern over the psychological impacts of the pandemic and enduring protests in Portland on students, and the undoubted challenges that lie ahead for teachers.
"I don't think all these teachers are concerned about COVID, I think they're concerned about what is this dynamic of managing kids who are supposed to wear masks?" Logan said. "How many kids are coming back that are emotionally traumatized?"
On racial equity and social justice:
"I'm very comfortable with the whole cultural thing," Logan said. "My whole life has been diversity. Growing up in the military, there was no racism, there was no color. I wasn't taught about color or race. There was none of that at all. When I was married, my ex was Black so I was intimately involved in the Black community for several years. I know Black history."
Sherman is a college student who graduated from Jefferson High School in 2020.
Key issues: Sherman said he's running for the PPS board because special education students need representation on the board and better outcomes.
"I am autistic," Sherman said. "This community is coming into (its) own as political players."
"I plan to improve outcomes for PPS's special education students, a group of students who are disproportionately minority students. We need to make sure our special education students are receiving the help they need. This means we need to increase SpED programs, support SpED teachers and faculty, and ensure adequate in class instruction while simultaneously providing one-on-one support."
Sherman also wants to prioritize upgrades and repairs to PPS buildings and noted the need to control material costs that have skyrocketed over the past year. The candidate said the community should play a bigger role in decisions about building remodels.
"Many if not most of our buildings are not seismically sound and many of them have radon, the second leading cause of lung cancer according to the EPA," Sherman said.
Sherman has a younger brother who attends middle school in PPS. His mother also serves on the district's Special Education Advisory Council.
On racial equity/social justice: "I have attended/observed Courageous Conversations Racial Equity Training," Sherman said. "Going forward the district needs to ensure that all training materials are available in other languages like Spanish."
Jaime Golden Cale
Cale is running as a write-in candidate and will not appear on the ballot. She said that's mainly due to timing and circumstance. She initially intended to support another candidate who ended up dropiing out of the race just minutes before the filing deadline. Cale is a PPS school secretary with a background in social work and mediation. She is also the co-founder of Mxm Bloc, a racial justice advocacy and organizing group.
Cale said she launched a write-in campaign on the grounds that "PPS needs stronger leadership, rooted in a foundation of equity, and racial & social justice."
She also cites special education and improved staff diversity as key drivers of her campaign.
"Both of my children receive special education services and I think back to when my son started on the journey for special ed services," Cale said. "It's a lonely path to be on. It's not a very choice-based program. You don't get a say in where your child ends up."
Cale also wants to see PPS partner with Oregon universities to create recruiting programs for teachers of color.
"I didn't have a teacher who looked like me until I was in high school," Cale said. That scenario has lasting impacts.
"When services are culturally relevant, students are more likely to have increased engagement in school," Cale's campaign website states.
Cale also notes slowly rising graduation rates for students, but said more work needs to be done to cater to the needs of students of color, as well as those with special needs.
"We must work harder to ensure that all students have a graduation plan," Cale's campaign website states. "We need counselors and mentors to help students access vocational programs, employment or college. Every student is unique and should be offered plans that are geared toward their abilities, interests and needs."
The district does currently utilize a "graduate portrait" that lays out the skills and abilities it expects each student to have, upon graduation, with a timeline for expectations.
On racial equity and social justice:
Racial equity and social justice is the hallmark of Cale's campaign.
The zone represents Northeast Portland. Incumbent Scott Bailey is not seeking re-election. Daniel Rodgers, a physician, is challenging Gary Hollands, a trucking business owner and founder of Interstate Trucking School.
Hollands was born and raised in Oregon and graduated from Benson Polytechnic High School. He previously served on the board of the Multnomah Education Service District. His wife works for Portland Public Schools as the director of diversity and workforce development. One of his daughters is now a teacher at Kairos PDX.
Key issues: Hollands has three priorities: he wants to see more career and technical education available to students; more diverse representation in decision making and staff; and a way to close the learning and achievement gaps for students of color.
"Some of the things they had when I was a kid just were not there anymore, like shop classes, home economics," Hollands said. "I wanted to find out how I could help in that process of getting more CTE, vocational options at our schools. I want to make sure we're positioning our kids in the best possible way to be successful after high school."
Hollands said the district should prioritize improving its staff diversity, especially teaching staff and said PPS also needs a broader perspective when plotting its future.
"When we're governing, making policy for our students, we have to make sure we have different lenses when we do that," Hollands said. "One person might have different experiences than someone else. If your experience is great and you had all the support you needed, then that's great for you, but that's not the experience I had from the same district. How can we make sure everybody gets this, the same thing you got?"
Hollands's other campaign focus calls attention to longstanding disparities between white students and students of color. "One thing that was always a constant was the disparity we have in proficiencies between third-grade reading and fifth-grade math between Black and brown kids," he said. "Why are our Black and brown kids when they get to third-grade, not at proficiency?"
On racial equity and social justice:
"You have to have that lens applied to everything," Hollands said. "White kids, Latinx, the LGBTQ issues, every kid has to have that. It's sometimes like they use the race piece because that's a catalyst for changes. That's definitely important to have that race lens in every decision we make, but in the past they used that same racial identity lens to deny kids of color educational opportunities."
The challenge? Tackling the lattermost issue is easier said than done. Seeing a major shift often takes years of work and requires a multi-faceted approach beyond the school board's purview.
Dr. Rodgers is a newcomer to Portland, having spent most of his life in Pennsylvania. He now works as a family physician.
Key issues: Rodgers said he's concerned about the impacts of COVID-19 on education. He initially explored the school board after wanting to know more about the district his young daughter will someday enter but said now, he's invested in helping improve the district.
"As time pushed forward and COVID started impacting our community, I started to see a profound impact on many of my pediatric patients, especially those with IEPs (Individualized Education Programs)," Rodgers said. "Although I first became curious because of my own family, that is not why I'm running; I'm running because I want to ensure inclusive, equitable, and top-notch education to all of our children in Portland. I want to help create a school system that we can all be proud of, and that other communities look to as an example of how excellent, equitable, and multifaceted education can be implemented."
"The return to full-time in person education (hopefully in the fall) is an issue I'm passionate about," Rodgers said. "This return needs to balance the needs of our kids and the safety of all involved. I also would like to focus on ensuring the educational opportunities at the primary education level are equal and equitable. At the secondary education level, I would like to focus on expanding access to the various vocational programs to ensure students across the whole district have the same opportunities for vocational learning."
On racial equity and social justice: "I support it as a framework for how to approach systemic change but I would like to see more done," Rodgers said. "I would like to see a continuous focus on whether the actions taken have had the intended effect; similar to the 'Plan, Do, Study, Act' approach to process and quality improvement — it's a continuous cycle."
While Rodgers sees room for improvement and the need for greater opportunities for all students, he is a newcomer to PPS and admits his knowledge of recent board meetings is limited to negotiation sessions between PPS and its teachers union leading up to the start of hybrid learning.
Julia Brim-Edwards is running for re-election to her board seat, overseeing Southeast Portland. She faces challengers Max Margolis and Libby Glynn.
Brim-Edwards was elected to the PPS board in 2017 and is seeking another term. She also previously served on the school board from 2001 to 2005.
She currently works for Nike as a senior director for global government and public affairs.
Key issues: Brim-Edwards emphasizes the need to address impacts to students and schools from COVID-19, modernization and improved safety of school buildings via bond measures and the need to support the district's historically underserved students. Upon announcing her bid for re-election in March, Brim-Edwards said she would offer "experienced leadership on the School Board to re-open schools safely for students and staff, as well as identify and provide supports for students to make up and accelerate academic gains following the pandemic year."
Brim-Edwards said continued leadership was needed "to support more equitable outcomes for students of color, special education and emerging multilingual students, as well as bolster confidence in public schools after significant pandemic-related enrollment drops."
She said she is acutely aware of the district's historic and current issues and touts her record of involvement both as a years-long PTA member and elected board member.
"As a PPS parent and board member, I have been one of the school district's harshest critics and one of those most willing to hold the district accountable," Brim-Edwards said. "To eliminate opportunity gaps, the School Board has directly tied the long-term evaluation of district leadership to raising academic growth and performance for underserved students and students of color. We are also prioritizing equity investments in schools."
Brim-Edwards noted the passage of school bond measures and the "sharpened focus" on hiring more diverse staff, but admits the district must do more to recruit teachers of color by tying recruitment and retention into the annual evaluation of district leadership.
"When I saw the previous district leadership wasn't tackling the threat that lead, asbestos and radon posed to our students and staff, as a community member I jumped in to help lead the work to pass the 2017 Bond — resulting in $150 million in health, safety, and accessibility improvements," Brim-Edwards said, noting the simultaneous push for more accountability and oversight of expenditures of bond money.
Brim-Edwards also touched on the boundary adjustment issues in Southeast Portland.
"Setting school boundaries is consistently some of the most difficult work of the District," she said. That work was necessary, Brim-Edwards said "to establish the feeder pattern for our about-to-be-opened rebuilt Kellogg Middle School and to provide hundreds of middle grades students with a more equitable middle school experience."
On racial equity and social justice: Brim-Edwards lists "better, more equitable outcomes for students" as a priority, along with increasing workforce diversity. She's also emphasized a leadership focus on better outcomes and additional supports for Black, Native American, Latinx, Asian Pacific Islander students. During school board meetings, Brim-Edwards has positioned herself as a staunch supporter of the district's racial equity and social justice lens.
Glynn works in the catering industry and graduated from Benson Polytechnic High School. She has a daughter in fifth grade and serves on the Bridger K-8 PTA.
Key issues: Glynn said she can recall problems with PPS school buildings when she was growing up, and the district hasn't moved fast enough to address issues in its aging buildings. She also said PPS lacks consistent and adequate communication with families.
"It's just the fact that they let things go by for decades without addressing issues," Glynn said, recalling lead pipes in drinking water at her school buildings when she was a kid. "I was not seeing the progress. There was progress in terms of 'let's work on these buildings,' but in terms of other areas, there was not progress I would hope to see."
Glynn said she'd like to see more engagement and communication with families and stakeholders affected by district decisions. She said parents in her neighborhood often feel the district moves forward on decisions regardless of community input. Most recently, she points to the Southeast Guiding Coalition- an enrollment balancing and school boundary adjustment planning process for Southeast Portland that has soured many Southeast Portland parents and students on the outcomes.
"Their communication with parents, maybe even school administrators, is lacking," Glynn said. "They were told 'we will be utilizing the equity lens for this process,' but when it came down to it, it seemed that was really not the case. It came down to the loudest white voice in the room."
Like other candidates, she's also concerned about skyrocketing construction costs that make it difficult for the district to deliver on the projects it promised to voters.
"A lot of these bond measures that Portland voters have passed, they're not covering construction costs," Glynn said.
A 2017 bond approved by voters came up short on the money needed for its projects promised due to an underestimation of construction costs, the district said. Since then, the district has implemented independent audit reviews of its proposed bonds, a bond accountability committee and other protocols it said will prevent future overruns.
On racial equity and social justice: "I agree with them embracing that, but they're not utilizing that lens to the greatest of their ability," Glynn said.
Margolis is a reading tutor who lists a background in nonprofit management, youth program development and community relations.
Key issues: Margolis is focused on improving outcomes and is critical of the district's current approach to learning and equity, pointing to PPS's achievement gaps between Black students and their white peers, which are the worst in the state. He also feels PPS is "out of touch" with the needs of students, parents and teachers.
"I am running for the school board because I believe all Portland Students deserve access to great teachers, engaging classes, and welcoming schools," Margolis said. "It is frustrating to see so many families leave the area or enroll their kids in private schools because they are dissatisfied with PPS. Too many PPS schools are failing to meet the needs of our students and our community."
Margolis, who has a daughter in middle school, takes issue with the district's approach to social-emotional learning — a concept the Committee for Children calls "the process of developing the self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills that are vital for school, work, and life success."
"I am concerned that PPS is prioritizing SEL (Social-Emotional Learning) curriculum over students' academics and extracurricular needs," Margolis said. "Why should (parents and guardians) trust PPS to provide effective social-emotional learning or restorative justice curriculum to students when PPS cannot get students to read and do math at grade level? My entire campaign is built around the idea that equity and excellence are equals. We can demonstrate this by bolstering our students' academic abilities and access to enriching extracurricular activities."
Social-emotional learning is often considered the bedrock of a balanced, modern education by most school districts in the Portland Metro area.
On racial equity and social justice: "I am supportive of the ends but critical of the means PPS is using," Margolis said. "The plan itself is lacking in urgency, difficult to follow, and missing tangible benchmarks. I will advocate that PPS establish a functional equity lens for district school policies similar to (policies of North Clackamas and Salem-Keizer school districts)."
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