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West Linn-Wilsonville 2019 School Board candidates participate in Q&A session

PMG FILE PHOTO - WL-WV School Board candidates discuss key issues they would tackle, if elected. Q: If you were elected to the WL-WV School Board, what issue would take precedence over others? Please explain.

Gail Greenman: Focusing my decades of public policy advocacy and experience related to public education, I would read, analyze and evaluate legislation and regulation impacting school districts. This is imperative because it allows the community to be proactive and part of the process instead of reactive.

I want to create an opportunity for a student member to be on the school board, allowing students to learn how school districts operate, participate in policy discussions and hone leadership skills. It's an opportunity for our district to hear concerns of students illuminating new perspectives not thought of previously.

What an amazing way to continue the vision of creating learning environments for the greatest thinkers and most thoughtful people in the world.

Jordan Ferris: The health and wellness of our student body would take precedence, with specific emphasis on mental health. This community has been rocked by suicide and self-harm in the recent past. I do not want us, as a community, to have to face that again.

First, I want to make sure there are enough counselors in schools, who are dedicated to therapeutic student interactions and not limited to academic (schedules) and college counseling. The load that our counselors take is untenable — up to 725 students per counselor where national association standards call for caseloads closer to 250.

Second, I want to increase access to health services for our students. I would love to have a school-based health center. Why should a working parent have to take time off of work, and lose money, to take their kid to a well child appointment or a sports physical when we could have those services centrally located for our middle and high school students?

Chelsea King Martin: As a second-term board member, my priorities would include wise fiscal decisions and advocating for the expansion of Career and Technical Education in our high schools. As a well-rounded board member, it is difficult to say that a single issue would take precedence over all the others.

Yet, there is one issue that I am passionate about and want to focus on: my vision of bringing a school-based health center to a high school in our district. A school-based health center would increase a family's access to medical and mental health professionals while reducing missed time in the classroom and at work.

Christy Thompson: In my conversations with parents and teachers, their biggest concerns are behavior disruptions in the classroom and the effect on student and teacher safety. I want to bring meaningful tools and techniques to our teachers and staff (during staff development) so they are equipped to address disruptive behaviors and can focus on what they love to do: teach.

Inviting board certified behavior specialists into our schools will help give our teachers practical steps to safely diffuse student disruptions. I will advocate for board policies that empower our teachers to take charge of challenging situations and partner with our school communities to continue to address their concerns.

Q: What are specific ways the WL-WV School District could improve communication with parents and the greater WL-WV community?

Ferris: I think the district does a really good job of communicating with parents and the community at large, but I also know that there is room for improvement. I want to ensure that the district listserv is used in communicating information to families.

I want all families to be invited to district events to give input, not have them be by invitation only. I want to ensure that all events provide a forum where all those who attend can speak. I would like for public comment during board meetings to not be limited. I don't think people who take time out of their day to come to these essential meetings in order to be heard should be cut off midstatement. The board needs to commit to following up on public comments in a timely manner.

Finally an authentic and robust effort should be made to engage the entire community; our citizens should want to come to board events because of the impact and engagement they, as individuals, can provide. I would encourage the use of the district's website and social media sites as a community bulletin board.

Schools should be the heart of the community, and I would like to encourage the use of school facilities by the community, for example, by making usage fees reasonable and waiving them for groups unable to pay the fees.

King Martin: Communication is an area where we have worked diligently. We adopted a goal to increase transparency and accessibility. The district hired a director of communication, increased social media presence and improved listserv communication. We have held community forums, created and engaged with advisory committees, attended student listening sessions and read and responded to hundreds of emails (and that's just the volunteer board). Yet we need to continue to improve. We need to find innovative ways to "cut through the noise" of information overload that many of our families' experience, in order to get the relevant information disseminated.

Our community wants to be heard and while we do listen, it doesn't always appear to be so. I am curious about this disconnect and want to continue our efforts to grow and improve. What else can be done to meet our community's need to be heard? We will continue to work toward answers.

Thompson: Our district does a great job with mass communication of basic information. However, parents want more transparency and communication in curriculum choices and classroom behavior and safety issues.

Beyond information, our parents want a seat at the table where they can have an active voice in discussions. Our parent involvement is a resource we need to value and take advantage of. I would suggest dividing our schools among board members and have each member be a liaison to specific schools. This member will get to know teachers, staff, students and parents, be accessible to that school community and be an available presence.

Greenman: Listening and communication can solve so many issues before they begin. As an elected official, I pledge to provide opportunities through town hall concepts and meet and greets offering parents and community members a less intimidating and more informal setting.

Additionally, I am committed to engaging and informing families, students, educators, district staff and the community on board actions and progress through written and personal communication throughout the course of my term. It's incumbent to push information out to the community so it is in hand when needed and wanted.

Q: If the WL-WV School District is able to build a new high school, how would you like to see it used?

King Martin: We have been listening to the business sector, our parents and our students and there is a very clear message: We want more career and technical education for our students. There exists a desire for a return to trade-based education as a means for closing the opportunity gap and increasing access to family-wage jobs.

Based on the data we have collected, there is community support for a magnet career and technical education high school. This would bring with it an update to CTE programs across all high schools in the district, expanding this opportunity to students who attend any one of our three high schools. While we are not likely to "build a new high school," we are likely to remodel an existing building to meet the needs of a magnet CTE high school program.

Thompson: I had the opportunity to visit Arts and Technology High School and speak with the principal, Saskia Dresler. What I learned and observed was a vibrant, inviting learning environment where students are known and education pathways are individualized. I am excited to expand the existing ATHS concept so more students can access hands-on learning.

Our future high school options need to include more career and technical education that will meet the needs of both college and noncollege-bound students. This is what employers are asking for and how we better prepare our students for the current work force.

Greenman: First and foremost, I would like to listen to thoughts and wishes from parents and students in the community. In conversations with community members there has been interest expressed in magnet programs which is specialized curriculum often in areas like:

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)

Fine and performing arts

International baccalaureate, international studies

Communications

Career and technical education (CTE)

World languages

Magnet programs can exist in schools whose entire population is part of the magnet program or can be incorporated into schools that offer traditional curriculum with students opting in to a magnet program allowing multiple magnet curriculum opportunities districtwide.

Ferris: I think that would depend on where it was located and what the student and parent body would like to see. Ideally it would be a welcoming and creative space that addresses the needs of the students in that area. Before we do anything, careful, accurate enrollment projections are essential. Also, we need to make sure that existing facilities and programs are fully utilized.

For example, the Clackamas Community College, Wilsonville campus is underutilized and could offer CTE, and there are dual credit/advanced placement CTE options available through the community college that should be fully explored and utilized before building a CTE high school.

If Arts and Technology is relocated, we need to ensure that suitable programming and services are provided to those students (not just CTE). Also, CTE should be provided so that it is equitable and accessible to all high school students in the district.

Q: Has the WL-WV School District done everything it can to adequately address school safety? Explain. What additional suggestions do you have, if any?

Thompson: Our district completed a safety and security assessment of all schools in 2016. Bond funds were used to complete recommended improvements to our facilities. The safety concerns I hear most about are those associated with disruptive classroom behavior. Our district needs to give our teachers and staff the resources needed to safely respond to disruptions without harm to themselves or others.

Second, our district must communicate clearly and quickly with parents of impacted children. Parents express concern for the emotional well-being of their children after witnessing aggressive behavior. Solutions to safety should go beyond protecting our students from physical harm. I want to support their emotional safety as well.

Greenman: As the emergency preparedness PTA co-chair at my daughters' school, I believe the safety of WL-WV students and staff is critical and needs a multipronged approach. It is important to remember that every child deserves a quality education, while also recognizing that education doesn't look the same for every child. Every child is unique and special.

School resource officers are an invaluable resource for all WL-WV schools, student safety continuing education regarding safe walking/biking practices and emergency supplies for every student and staff member in the district are critical. Healing, whether the trauma is a natural disaster or violence, begins at the moment of impact and we must be prepared to equip our entire community with the necessary tools.

Ferris: I don't think there is a single district in the United States that has done "everything" to adequately address school safety. I also think that school safety is more than bulletproof glass and bars on doors in every classroom. Safety should address every facet of student life. It's equity and inclusion; it's special education; it's addressing food insecurity and it's supporting all of our students.

I know that we haven't given enough attention to some of the root causes of threats to safety — namely mental health, after school support and pro-social relationships. Ultimately safety improvements in the district should be accelerated to assure parity among all schools instead of waiting for the next bond to be approved.

King Martin: When a group of parents came to our school board meeting and advocated for the review of our safety protocols, our board responded by creating a School Emergency Preparedness Advisory Committee, comprised of parents, teachers and students. I served as the board liaison to that work and the ideas they generated inform our future capital bond projects.

Additionally, our superintendent has developed and organized our schoolwide emergency response plan and has collaborated with West Linn and Wilsonville First Responders to ensure all schools have systems in place should we be faced with an emergency of any scale.The district also contracts with a security consulting firm who advises our decision-making. There is always more that can be done and we work on this issue every day.

Q: What are ways the WL-WV School District and the community could improve mental health support and accessibility for students?

Greenman: Recently, several brave students spoke publicly about very personal issues that will likely have a lifelong impact. Each story was unique and one of pain, but what was most troubling was the consistent theme which can be paraphrased as, "We did not know where to go for help."

We must assess what programs and support systems are or are not in place and go a step further. It is our responsibility to push that information out consistently, so no child is left seeking the information in a moment of crisis. All of the programs in the world won't do kids any good if they don't know how to access them.

Ferris: There is so much we can do. More counselors, more safe spaces, more listening to our students and asking them what they need. Getting counseling staff that look like our students or identify in the same ways that our students do — giving them visibility through the staff we employ. I have a lot of really creative ideas and solutions to address mental health gaps that currently exist. The contacts that I have and the relationships that I have developed could be leveraged to provide low cost personnel to staff the space that needs to be built.

Have we asked our community for mental health volunteers? How can we collaborate with Clackamas County? Additionally, there are other ways we can meet students where they are by deliberately creating forums and groups for our students to be able to engage each other in a positive and considerate way.

What about using more technology? Text support and virtual visits are ways that nurses are innovating in mental health, there is no reason we can't also do that here.

King Martin: I have read the data from the Oregon Healthy Teens Survey and we do have a significant percentage of students who feel hopeless, have thoughts of self-harm, and suffer from anxiety and stress.

I appreciate that this question asks what our schools and our communities can do about this because it will take all of us to help our young people. This is one reason why I want to bring a school-based health center to a high school in our district. This will increase access to mental health support. I also have an interest in peer-based helping programs; anything we can do to encourage connection and relationship will reduce the impact of depression, stress and anxiety.

Thompson: Ideally, our district would have the funds to hire mental health professionals for each school. Our budget does not allow for this unless we cut teachers or academic programs.

The New York State Education Department encourages school districts and community mental health providers to partner to improve students' access to mental health services. In 2018, they published a document that provides information, to districts like ours, on how to start school-based mental health clinics. I will facilitate partnerships between our county and state governments to bring mental health services into our district and closer to our communities.

Q: What work can the school district do to continue supporting CTE opportunities for students??

Ferris: I would love to see more CTE paths in education here in the district. I would like to see more CTE spaces. Ideally, I would love to see partnerships with local trades and unions that offer apprenticeships.

I think if students knew more about what their career trajectory could be in these areas they may flock to them more — earlier engagement with students about career choices. The Clackamas Community College, Wilsonville campus is underutilized and could offer CTE, and there are dual credit/advanced placement CTE options available through the community college that should be fully explored and utilized before building a CTE high school.

Every student should have access to an affordable college education, but not every student needs to go to a four-year college or university to be able to be successful in life and make a living for themselves and their families.

King Martin: Recently WLHS secured a grant for CTE programs, and they have experienced success with the three career tracks they adopted. This program has informed what CTE can look like in our district. Our superintendent, in collaboration with our community partners, has moved the dial on bringing CTE to our high schools.

Having a school board that supports this vision, is knowledgeable about the process, and will collaborate with the district to adopt and expand these programs in our high schools is crucial to the success. I am that board member and I will prioritize this work.

Thompson: We need to build more bridges to our business community and local colleges. If elected, I will be a presence at the Wilsonville and West Linn Rotary meetings and get to know the Chamber of Commerce leaders. I am meeting with the CEO of the Wilsonville Chamber of Commerce this week to discuss ways local businesses can partner with schools to expand students' hands-on learning. While serving on the Superintendent's High School Study Group, I visited other high schools to learn how they are incorporating CTE opportunities into the school day. We don't need to reinvent the wheel; we need to tap the business and college resources around us.

Greenman: Career and technical education provides students with powerful resources and professional development making a real difference in their future. Expanding upon WL-WV's existing CTE curriculum by utilizing resources like Future Ready Oregon and developing community partnerships allows students to earn credit and develop job skills.

Providing opportunities currently in automotive mechanics can be replicated in the areas of agricultural sciences, food industry and health care just to name a few. It is imperative that we focus on what is strong, not wrong. Too often we focus on areas of deficiencies instead of enhancing a student's natural strengths.