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Candidates for the St. Helens School Board answer questions from the Columbia County Spotlight.

Three seats on the board of directors for the St. Helens School District are up for election on May 18.

The Spotlight asked the four candidates who have filed for the St. Helens School Board to respond to a short set of questions, as they seek to win over voters this spring. Their responses are presented here in full, with some light editing for grammar and clarity.

What are your goals for the district and for students heading through 2021?

COURTESY PHOTO - Kellie SmithKellie Smith, Position 1: My goals for our district are pretty broad, as I definitely believe the Board should decide the district goals together. As an individual, I'd hope to bring consistency, positivity, and experience to the table.

Being a parent of school-age children, I understand the many changes and challenges our students have been through the last year, and hope that there will be continued supports for students and their families while we move through the process of trying to get back into our classrooms.

As the incumbent, I'm proud of the many accomplishments that we've accomplished thus far, such as: the increased numbers of counselors at our schools, the work that has been done with Connect St. Helens and Sources of Strength, the development and partnership with the St. Helens Recreation Center along with the development of an after-school childcare option, we've built new buildings for the middle school and Plymouth High School (formerly CCEC) and are about to renovate the St. Helens High School.

I'm excited to see these projects through, but I share the community's concerns and goal, to be financially responsible, and to continue to stay within our budget while doing these needed improvements.

COURTESY PHOTO - Ryan SchollRyan Scholl, Position 3: My first goal for the District and students is to return to school full-time. Other goals I have is to continue to work on the high school remodel, expand the Career Technical Education (CTE) program, and continue to expand community partnerships. It's also important to me to continue to work on increasing the graduation rates.

Jaime Smith, Position 3: This is my first term running for St. Helens School Board. I've been the PTO president at Columbia City Elementary since they reopened and involved as a parent volunteer before that with the District.

My goal for the District, students and their families is to truly bring all three together. To look for and establish mechanisms for community involvement to see the Districts vision grow and come to fruition. I hope to be a voice for those who might not feel comfortable and to meet our community where they are.

Trinity Monahan, Position 4: Five years ago, we created a Strategic Plan for the district. In that time, we have accomplished a number of goals. Our graduation rates have improved, we've passed two bonds, we have increased our CTE offerings, added preschools, added multiple counselors and social workers, partnered with the city to create a Park and Recreation Program, and a number of other accomplishments.

My goals for the district is to create another Strategic Plan, focus on our underserved students, continue to increase our quality of instruction, professional development, graduation rates, and our efforts at building inclusion and belonging for all students. Providing space where students can be their authentic selves and grow and flourish into whatever career path and life path they dream of is one of my highest goals in our efforts.

What do you believe teachers have learned during these several months of distance learning?

Kellie Smith: Oh man, this is a loaded question! Ha!

Quite simply, some learned it might be time to retire, while some found skills they never new they had.

Not being a teacher, I cannot answer this question to its fullest. My sympathies go out to our teachers and my many thanks as well, for this was a year that brought a hurricane of emotions for all, and for the most part we experienced teachers treading these waters with an amazing amount of grace, humor and love.

Teachers sent us cards and letters, made us videos, dropped care packages off, spent one-on-one time with our children to catch them up, made special trips to tutor or deliver supplies, etc.

Our teachers took what they had and ran with it, which is what they do every year.

We have a large family — my children had over 22 teachers among them this year. There were many rockstar teachers working their hardest and learning a lot every day.

Ryan Scholl: Our teachers had to think quickly and "outside-of-the-box" during COVID distance learning. There was not a manual to tell them how to do this. They had to use their resources and work hard to be able to teach through a computer.

I heard about many teachers going way above the normal to reach out to their students to make sure they were getting the best education possible during distance learning.

COURTESY PHOTO - Jaime SmithJaime Smith: I think our teachers and staff realized strong relationships are the heart of learning, and many had to find ways to build trust and ensure each student felt welcomed, accepted and valued. I think they learned how to be innovative in their instructional model and make it equitable for all.

Trinity Monahan: I think teachers have learned how to be more creative in engagement. There is a vast difference in being able to engage students in person versus digitally.

In my own work, I see people turn their cameras off during meetings, reduce interaction, and struggle to remain focused. For students, it can be even more difficult. I've seen examples of teachers reaching out and making efforts to connect with students struggling, creating new spaces to keep students engaged, and think outside the box on how to help and support the differing needs of students.

Teaching is truly an art, and many of our teachers have only strengthened their artistry in finding ways to connect to students and encouraging them to keep moving forward, even when it's incredibly tough to do so. I look forward to seeing how our teachers use this last year to adapt in person learning and reaching out to all our students and their differing needs.

Moving forward, and considering the pandemic and how it has affected education, do you think the educational model will change, and in what ways?

Kellie Smith: I really hope so. If we let this time pass us by without making some changes, we will have missed an amazing opportunity.

Parents have a huge voice when it comes to our children and what we want for them, but we don't always take the time to advocate and participate.

We don't have to do what we've always done. It might be a great time to move towards an Individual Education Plan for every child. Maybe your child would benefit from being home for half a day, or maybe they only need to attend for certain lessons, or maybe they need hands-on instruction, or maybe they want to take 10 credits a year, maybe they want to select their classes like a college, and have the option of night classes and online classes, etc.?

While this school year was a year that placed many restrictions, it was also the year that allowed us to do anything and everything we could to get the job done. Let's keep doing that.

Ryan Scholl: I believe the education model will change, but it will be a good change. Distance learning and technology opens doors that can be used in the future. The teachers can record their classes, and if a student misses class or is having a hard time understanding the lesson, they could go back and watch it again.

Also, having an online/homeschool program though the District will be very beneficial for students who need a different option outside of classroom setting.

Jaime Smith: Yes, I believe we have no choice but to make change. The model in which we return to should include blended learning and opportunities for collaboration between students, schools and outside districts. Incorporate technology into our day to day learning; as much as we worry about the hours of screen time, it is the way of the world.

COURTESY PHOTO - Trinity MonahanHaving our students understand the technology, the different applications and how to interact with each other remotely is also teaching them real-life scenarios that they can take with them as they grow.

Trinity Monahan: We have the capacity to provide support in ways we've never had, with new technologies and programs. We have a better understanding of how to make efforts at engaging students and their families in times of crisis, which I am hopeful will lead to better long term outcomes.

We have learned to adapt in ways we've never had to do, and that helps us to get out of a specific mindset that we have to do something because we've always done it that way. Opening our minds to new possibilities and methods, I believe, will be a positive outcome to what has been a nearly impossible year for staff, students, and families.

I look forward to us continuing to challenge our efforts, and push beyond what we believe is possible or has been possible in the past. We have a solid foundation for growth, and I believe our systems will do a much better job of focusing on student engagement, content delivery, inclusion for all, and how to continually challenge ourselves and our students in moving forward.

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