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Student needs, well-being among issues highlighted as six candidates seeking three school board positions

With ballots for the May 21 general elections mailed out around the state, the Woodburn Independent is continuing to highlight candidates from throughout the northern Marion County region who are running for local positions.

This week, we take a look at the Woodburn School District board of directors, where all three positions will be contested.

Long time incumbent school board directors Linda Reeves and Linda Johnston face challenges from members of the Woodburn community with previous experience within the district.

A former educator, Johnston is the district's longest-serving board member, having served three four-year terms, and will square off against former Woodburn School District administrator and current mayor Eric Swenson for Position 4.

A former North Marion School District superintendent, Reeves was appointed to the school board in 2014 to replace former board member Eric Morris and retained her seat in the 2015 election. She will seek to retain her seat as Position 1 director against former school board member Gustavo Gomez, who resigned from his director position late last year.

In the final race, Noemi Legaspi was appointed to replace Gomez for Position 2 in 2018 and is running against John Rivas to fulfill the remaining two years of the term. Rivas was one of the finalists to fill the position last year, but the remaining board members ultimately chose Legaspi, while Rivas joined the budget committee.

Woodburn schools are continuing to see improvements throughout the district coming from the $65 million bond passed in 2015, including the opening of the new Success High School building in October and completed renovations and new construction on Washington Elementary School in December.

In other infrastructure improvements outside of the bond project, the high school also recently began construction in February on a new multi-use artificial turf field that is scheduled to be completed before the end of the school year.

We asked the candidates to let us know what the future holds for the district and what direction they'd like to see Woodburn move toward in the coming years.

WOODBURN SCHOOL DISTRICT

Director, Position 2 — 2-year term

Noemi LegaspiPMG FILE PHOTO - Noemi Legaspi

Relevant Experience

Marriage and Family Therapist, Noemi Legaspi Counseling; Community Networker and Instructor, Pacific University Woodburn Campus.

Work Experience:

Substitute Teacher, Woodburn School District; College and Career Specialist Woodburn School District; Volleyball and Basketball Coach, Woodburn School District; Higher Education Mentor.

University of California at Davis, B.A. Psychology and B.S. Human Development; George Fox University, M.A., Couples, Individuals and Family Therapy; doctoral student at Oregon State University, Counselor Education and Supervision.

Woodburn School District Board of Directors 2018-present.

Why are you running?

As a mother, business owner, therapist, community member, and higher education educator I am running for the Woodburn School Board because I have a passion for students, community, and education. I believe, all students can succeed. I am a first-generation college going student and can relate to many Woodburn students and their families. Navigating higher education is difficult for many, as a WSD College and Career Specialist I saw this first hand along with many obstacles' students face. However, I have observed, our students can succeed when given the proper tools for success. Areas of interest for me include; support early childhood education, college and career readiness, support teacher recruitment and retention practices, parent and community involvement, and mental health care.

What are the biggest issues facing the school district?

I believe there are two issues that stand out to me: parental involvement and mental health concerns. In my opinion, parental involvement in schools needs to continue to be assessed in order to provide a welcoming environment to parents and families. It's vital for parents/guardians to be involved in their student's academic success. Many students come from challenging homes, poverty, dealing with immigration or deportation for themselves or a family member, trauma and much more. These impact a student's mental health and is linked to student learning and academic success. In addition, This includes, mental illness and bullying. As a school district, we need learn how to respond, interact, and teach students who have experienced trauma by utilizing trauma informed practices appropriate in a school setting.

What would you like to see accomplished if you are elected?

As a school board member, I would like to accomplish the following:

Successful completion of the Career and Technical Education program, as this will provide students preparation and exposure to college and careers before graduating from high school. Parents and community plays an important role in education, I would like to assess and improve the relationship between Woodburn School District and the community and make changes as needed to improve the gap between parents/community and Woodburn School District. Assessing the mental health need and current services is a priority. Our student's well being — physical, emotional and psychological — all impact student learning.

Why are you the best candidate?

As a first-generation daughter of immigrant farm worker, mother, business owner, therapist, higher education educator in Woodburn, I offer a unique voice and perspective to improve education for students. My leadership ability and experience building trusting relationships will help overcome challenges and create change for all students of Woodburn School District.

As a mental health clinician, I bring a unique perspective to the school board. This includes expertise in fostering student competencies, be liaison between the school board and the families it serves, help strengthen family and community assets to enhance student's well-being, and provide knowledge and solution on mental health care and impact on children.

***

John RivasPMG FILE PHOTO - John Rivas

Relevant Experience

Currently, I serve as a member of the Woodburn School Budget Committee. I am utilizing my Bachelor's of Science in Managerial Economics and my current work experience as an accountant to serve in this committee. Formerly, as the president of a student association, I collaborated in the organization of events at Oregon State University aimed at breaking the stereotypes about Latin American students through education.

Why are you running?

I am invested in understanding the needs of our students. I believe students can do well if they have the means to do so. As a student I faced multiple barriers, which has helped me understand some of the obstacles students face that keeps them from being successful academically. I achieved my goals because there were outstanding individuals in my school that went the extra mile to support me, out of their passion for student's success, and not because they were being compensated to do so. I am running because I would like to work toward a structure or system that assures students receive support for every level of struggle they face: financial struggles, mental health concerns, health and wellness access, career and vocational aspirations, language barriers, etc.

What are the biggest issues facing the school district?

Many students are not being supported because their needs are not being met. If we want our students to be successful academically, we need to start supporting them in the other facets of their life. Students not only carry their backpacks into school, they also carry trauma, insecurities, loneliness, sadness, fear, hunger, and many other issues. This is not to say that our school district does not have resources for students, but there is a gap between the resource and students accessing those resources.

What would you like to see accomplished if you are elected?

I would like to see an initiative for more student engagement k-12. It is important that we begin this engagement as early as they begin their school career. If we engage students we retain students in schools. Engaging students can be done in many different ways; there are many school districts that are already implementing different programs to engage their students during and after school.

Why are you the best candidate?

I have seen first-hand programs that are successful in engaging students in school, and I plan to bring this knowledge to help develop our own programs. Furthermore, I also have personal experience as a student in Woodburn School District that is valuable in understanding our diverse school needs. I am also invested in working hard to improve and support our school district. I am aware that this will require time outside my regular work schedule, and I am committed to be devoted to make a difference.

***

Director, Position 4 — 4-year term

Eric SwensonPMG FILE PHOTO - Eric Swenson

Relevant Experience

Thirty years as an elementary teacher and secondary principal, 10 as a principal in Woodburn, assistant superintendent with the Silver Falls School District, adjunct instructor in the school of education at Pacific University and George Fox University.

Why are you running?

As a middle and high school principal in Woodburn I have gained a deep respect for the quality of our young people, their families and all those that support them in our community. I have also come to deeply appreciate the hard work that our teachers and support staff do every day in the service of our students.

I am proud of the programs we have developed and the high graduation rates we have achieved, but I also have many opinions and ideas for how our school district can be improved.

What are the biggest issues facing the school district?

1. Graduating our non-college bound students much more ready for trade schools and the work force.

2. Managing the bond projects to completion within budget.

3. Planning with the city for the next phase of residential growth in our community over the next 10-20 years.

What would you like to see accomplished if you are elected?

1. Full development of our Career and Technical Education (CTE) Programs,

2. Improvement of our flagship dual-language programs,

3. Making our teacher and administrator professional development time more relevant and effective.

Why are you the best candidate?

Having served in six other school districts, joined with my 10 years in Woodburn, I can offer a well-founded perspective on how to improve our district while continuing our successes.

***

Linda JohnstonPMG FILE PHOTO - Linda Johnston

Relevant Experience

School board director for 12 years.

Teacher for 37 years, much of my time in Woodburn.

Chemeketa Community college instructor for three years.

Local community garden team for one year, a community service project providing students Pre-K to grade 12 an outdoor learning space.

Why are you running?

My service on the school board is one of the ways I am able to give back to my community. I can use my skills and experience in education to work with the other directors to set policies that guide the work of staff and students. I want to assure the best educational opportunities for all students in our community. I also hope to create a supportive environment for all staff and students.

What are the biggest issues facing the school district?

One of the most challenging issues facing our district is stable and equitable funding for our schools. While we continue to maintain a graduation rate that is one of the highest in the state we work to get the last 8-10% to be successful completing their high school education and moving on to be productive educated citizens in our community.

What would you like to see accomplished if you are elected?

My focus for this term is assuring the completion of current bond projects. I hope to continue my advocacy for the expansion of career and technical education programs at the high school. I will encourage access to apprenticeship programs for interested students. This would also include career exploration options for the middle schools. I will continue my support of the International Baccalaureate program which provides our students a step ahead of other high school graduates entering college. I hope to see our preschool program expanded to see any student starting school has the best foundation for learning.

Why are you the best candidate?

I have a lifelong historical background that helps to inform decision making in the district. I keep current on changes in education that might benefit our staff and students or could put them at risk. I work in the community garden with students. This allows me time to listen to student's hopes and dreams for their future. This adds important information to support my decisions on the school board. I expect all of our students will succeed in their educational and lifelong endeavors.

***

Director, Position 1 — 4-year term

Linda ReevesPMG FILE PHOTO - Linda Reeves

Relevant Experience:

I devoted my life to teaching and learning, having served as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, curriculum director and superintendent of schools during my professional career that spanned three states. Now, as a retiree, I serve on both the Woodburn School Board and the Woodburn Art Center Board and various committees to give back to my community I have lived in and loved for 23 years. I have the knowledge and skills necessary to understand the strategic planning, policy development, district systems and methods most effective in teaching and leading schools. I am passionate about making a difference for each student in the schools and community.

Why are you running?

I am running for our kids. Strong schools and high achieving students contribute to a thriving community, one which citizens are proud of and happy to participate in. Having served on the Woodburn School Board since 2014, I am delighted for the accomplishments our students and staff are making in student achievement, bi-literacy, graduation rates, and preparation for life. I am thrilled about the facilities improvements, including the new turf field that is currently being installed. Woodburn SD is now recognized as one of the top academic districts in the state with visitors coming to learn what is being done right to achieve such successes with a diverse student population, yet there is work to do to meet the goals of our Strategic Plan 2018-2023. With bond upgrades to complete at each school, ongoing projects and activities, I am excited to continue the work.

What are the biggest issues facing the school district?

We will have concerns about adequate funding to meet ongoing budgetary needs until sustainable school funding in Oregon is achieved. New housing developments and apartments are on the horizon in Woodburn, so continued growth in the student population is probable, perhaps exceeding the current capacity of the newly renovated schools. The third issue I see is maintaining a quality staff with the diversity we require to lead our dual language programs and provide all students equitable opportunities.

What would you like to see accomplished if you are re-elected?

I would like to see completion of bond upgrades at every school and planned safety features for each school that protect our students and staff; continued adherence to the visionary Strategic Plan; strengthening our culture of engagement within the District and outreaching to the community.

Why are you the best candidate?

It has been my honor to serve on the Woodburn School Board and I believe I have the experience, the vision and definitely the commitment to continue the work for all students. I am a listener and thoughtful decision maker about improving practice and will continue fulfilling responsibilities of district governance as established by the laws of the state of Oregon.

***

Gustavo GutierrezPMG FILE PHOTO - Gustavo Gomez

Relevant Experience,

Worked for the public sector for over a decade now. I also volunteer at few committees and served as a school board member for over four years. I received the golden award by Oregon School Boards Association in 2017. I grew up going to public schools all the way to college.

Why are you running?

Because I believe in accountability of the systems and the future of our kids.

What are the biggest issues facing the school district?

The lack of empathy and cultural competence among few people within the district.

The lack of understanding and support for those who serve our communities. The idea that change is not part of education.

The future is now, not with one voice, but many.

What would you like to see accomplished if you are elected?

Change all around, new focus and perspective. We are public service employees, not a corporation. We need leaders not managers.

Why are you the best candidate?

I understand poverty, I understand systemic oppression. I'm an educated bicultural individual who understands the issues that face our community and therefore our kids' education.


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