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Kristi Wilson and Reiko Williams are running to represent Vernonia and beyond on the PCC board of directors.

Two candidates are vying for the Zone 7 seat on Portland Community College's board of directors in the upcoming special election on May 21.

Zone 7 covers most of western Columbia and Washington counties, including Vernonia, Banks, North Plains, Forest Grove and Cornelius. Most of Hillsboro, the largest city on Portland's Westside, falls within Zone 7 as well.

PCC's Rock Creek campus, located in unincorporated Washington County north of Highway 26, sits in Zone 5 but maintains a satellite campus in Hillsboro.

Currently serving in the Zone 7 seat is Alexander Díaz Rios, who is unable to seek re-election after moving out of the zone.

Voters will choose between Reiko Williams, principal of Sabin Elementary School in Portland, and Kristi Wilson, Hillsboro's workforce development manager, in the Zone 7 election.

COURTESY PHOTO: - Reiko Williams

Reiko Williams

Williams holds two master's degrees, one in social work and another in education, and is currently pursuing a doctorate in education policy and leadership at Portland State University.

She has 20 years of experience in education, working as assistant director of minority recruitment and then as associate director for diversity in admissions at PSU in the early 2000s. Williams also worked as a counselor and advisor at PCC's Rock Creek campus.

Before becoming principal of Sabin, she held multiple Portland Public Schools positions, including director of the district's school and family partnerships program and assistant principal at Rosa Parks Elementary School.

Williams said her experience as a leader in public schools makes her keenly aware of the important relationship PCC has with local school districts — not only because of PCC's need to provide young students with pathways to secondary education and fulfilling careers but also to provide districts' parents, teachers and staff opportunities for career advancement.

Watching her adult mother take classes to become a nurse and other family members in community colleges instilled in Williams an understanding of community college's crucial role, she said.

"This is an opportunity for me to share my skills and experience in working to support vulnerable communities with gaining access to the myriad of opportunities in community colleges and beyond," Williams said.

She added that PCC's board needs another person who will champion expanding access and reducing barriers to education for diverse populations.

"We have to figure out ways to make school and make your education your first priority," Williams said of many PCC students who struggle to afford housing, childcare and other costs of living.

PCC's primary goal should be figuring out how to get students back doing hands-on work during the pandemic, Williams said.

Kristi Wilson

COURTESY PHOTO: - Kristi WilsonAlso stating the pandemic as the board's main issue, Wilson said PCC needs to use data to identify which students and programs have been most impacted by the pandemic and figure out ways to compensate with new policies and opportunities.

Earning an associate's degree from PCC, Wilson said she has first-hand experience with the difference the college can make in people's lives. Wilson also holds a bachelor's degree in psychology from PSU.

She said her experience wanting to gain new skills after getting a job as a utility worker with Hillsboro's Parks and Recreation Department out of high school is similar to many PCC students' paths.

Wilson's years of experience in workforce development in Hillsboro gives her a unique understanding of the area's specific academic and career readiness needs for students, she said.

Serving on the board would be an extension of her current work developing programs and connections between local schools and industries for underserved groups, Wilson said.

She pointed to her work helping seasonal farmworkers access permanent employment and on PCC's microelectronics career and technical education advisory committee, a group that helps guide PCC's electronics manufacturing programs. Students from that high-tech pipeline are in high demand in South Columbia County, as well as in Washington County.

The pandemic has placed a disproportionate burden on parents, particularly mothers, Wilson said, adding the board should advocate for better access to childcare for students.

"We need to make sure that we continue to offer quality programs without raising tuition and ensuring college is accessible, especially for our underserved and marginalized communities," she said.

Acknowledging that the average age of a PCC student is 27, many of whom are changing professions and look for rapid career advancement, Wilson said wants to enhance "quick connections to livable wage jobs."

Both Wilson and Williams said boosting enrollment at PCC after declines in 2020 will be key.

They also both said they're prepared for the important task of naming a successor for Mark Mitsui, PCC's president, who announced his retirement last week.

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