School board candidates make their cases during forum
Candidates for the West Linn-Wilsonville School Board shared why local residents should support them during a forum hosted by the West Linn-Wilsonville Education Association, which is the district's certified union, Wednesday, April 28.
The event included introductory remarks from Louis Taylor, who is the only candidate running for Position 1, Kirsten Wyatt, who is running against Craig Tiffany and write-in candidate Heidi Klein for Position 3, and Position 5 candidates Seiji Shiratori, David Jones and Kelly Sloop. The candidates answered four questions throughout the evening.
Tiffany and Klein were not present at the forum.
In his opening remarks, Taylor, who has two daughters in the district and has three companies based in West Linn, said part of what motivated him to run was to address what he saw as blindspots when it came to including and hearing from minority communities. He said he would strive to improve graduation rates for underserved populations.
Wyatt, who also has two daughters in the district, is the chair of the district's budget committee and has spent years running a nonprofit dedicated to empowering governmental leaders. She said she hoped to take a more active role in the district through her candidacy.
Shiratori detailed his previous work in the U.S. State Department and as a lobbyist in the state Legislature and said he wanted to preserve the high quality of life and fiscal responsibility locally.
Next, Jones, a former executive board director of the Rogers Park Community Council in Chicago, who is known locally for his work with Creatures of the Night, indicated his motivation to provide a voice for teachers feeling overwhelmed during the pandemic and unhappy about not feeling heard.
Finally, Sloop, a longtime West Linn resident and pharmacist, said she wanted to help foster a safe, tolerant and inclusive learning environment.
In answering the first question pertaining to students' learning experiences and fostering great thinkers, Shiratori said it's important for the district to keep more advanced students feeling challenged and motivated while also making sure all students can become their best selves.
He added: "There's a lot of learning that's not reading, writing and arithmetic. It's how to be a part of society, how to participate civically, how to understand what we can and can't expect from different levels of government."
Wyatt, meanwhile, relayed an experience where she helped students engage in local government by creating mock land use plans and budgets and learning how to provide public testimony.
"It's about developing leaders that have empathy, grit, determination and have curious minds," she said. "It gave them the opportunity to see the world larger than they see in middle school halls."
The next question asked the candidates to reflect on how they would engage the entire community in an environment where certain voices can drown out others.
Sloop said getting information out to as wide of a swath of the population as possible was the right approach, and to relay that the district values everyone's input.
"I think it's important we reach out and allow equal air time from all of the population: educators, parents, students, taxpayers, anyone in the community," she said.
Jones said that many people in the district feel disempowered and disengaged, and that working collaboratively with social workers and counselors could be a good step toward letting people know they're valued.
"With the stakeholders, when they're very loud and agitated it usually means they're feeling disempowered," he said.
In the third question, the teachers association asked the candidates their approach to continuing to build a more equitable district.
Shiratori said the district could examine its existing programs to address struggles like homelessness and hunger to see if they're working appropriately, while also expanding language offerings and finding ways to reduce hate speech.
"We need to have deep discussion in a way that everyone feels included, including folks in the majority," he said.
Jones said what he took from the book "NurtureShock" was that affluent communities not discussing race and equity issues fortified deeper inequities. He felt that building a dialogue and tweaking and expanding civics offerings could help.
The final question asked candidates to explain how they would collect information and make decisions that benefit the entire community.
Sloop said she would gather input from stakeholders, hold town halls and conduct surveys before coming to conclusions.
"I'm not one to go out and make decisions on my own. It has to be based on input I receive from the community," Sloop said.
Taylor said creating liaisons between different demographic and neighborhood groups and making himself accessible to the community are ways he would reach residents who aren't always heard from. Building bridges between different groups would be his focus, he added.
"That's the one thing you'll learn about me as we form a relationship is I'm very accessible," Taylor said.
After agreeing with Taylor about forming group liaisons, Wyatt said the relationships and endorsements she's garnered with mayors in West Linn and Wilsonville, legislators and other groups would give her broad access to information and resources. She added that she's a curious and outgoing person.
"I'm an advocate for calling people up, asking questions and finding my way," she said.
The election is slated for May 18.
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