With the primary election quickly approaching, 10 candidates for the school board shared why they are the best fit to represent all 23,000 students in the Northshore School District.
Woodinville Weekly, in partnership with the Sammamish Valley Grange, hosted a forum for all Northshore School Board candidates on Thursday, July 15, at the Grange. For those unable to attend, the event was streamed through Facebook Live. A recording is available on the Weekly’s Facebook page.
Michael Albrecht, Elizabeth Crowley and incumbent Jacqueline McGourty represented the candidates for District 1. Candidates Chris Roberdeau, Katya Bautista and incumbent Sandy Hayes voiced their opinions for the District 4 race. And candidates Jasmine Fry, Angela Chapman, Amy Felt and incumbent Amy Cast shared their platforms for District 5. Brian Travis, who is running for District 1, was the only candidate not to attend the forum.
In regards to improving communication with the community, Hayes said the school board has more learning to do, especially since the district has grown and communication methods have evolved over the years. The topic of communication and transparency is a “forever conversation,” she added.
Fry argued that more work can be done to seek input from people in the community who don’t know how to participate. There are about 93 languages spoken in the district, she said, and the board needs to do “a little more reaching out.”
Bautista said board members need to hear from quiet parents as well as vocal ones. She also wants to see the time of board meetings change in order for more working parents to attend, she said.
“To me, the school board is a bridge between parents and teachers, which means that it’s a teamwork,” Bautista said.
With pandemic restrictions finally easing, McGourty said, she aims to encourage more conversations with members of the community to rebuild trust and communication.
Chapman argues that the current board needs to “get down from the dais” during meetings and “get to know who is there and why,” she said. Felt added that responding to calls and emails, while inconvenient at times, would help the community feel better connected to board members.
Upon the return to classrooms this fall, many candidates are concerned about the overall impact of remote learning for children. According to Chapman, the district needs to make a plan for each kid individually based on past grades and current knowledge.
She said it’s been proven that hands-on learning is effective, especially for younger students who crave more interaction with peers and teachers. High performing kids are struggling as well, she said, and it looks and feels different for each student.
Cast agreed that each student was impacted differently during the pandemic. She said the school district needs to support students “holistically,” not just academically. She wants to see teachers implement inquiry-based projects to determine where kids stand among their peers, she said.
McGourty acknowledged and applauded the many Northshore teachers who have been working 24/7 for the last 18 months. She said teachers have been evaluating their students, in terms of learning loss, this whole time.
“I just want to be very clear about this upfront, the teachers in our school district are absolute heroes,” she said.
NSD has gone “above and beyond” to provide individualized programs that address learning loss for all students, McGourty said. Summer school and recovery programs are available, she said, and will continue throughout the fall.
Crowley said the school district cannot solely rely on online assessments like iReady to understand academic and emotional levels in kids. Students need real interactions and more frequent communications with teachers, she said. Additionally, she said, there must be more mental health resources so kids feel comfortable seeking help.
“Asking for help shouldn’t be shameful,” she said.
Albrecht shared the King County statistic that youth suicides have increased by 30% over the course of the pandemic. He wants to implement a mental health curriculum from kindergarten to 12th grade, he said.
“It’s community spread,” Albrecht said, referring to the mental health crisis. “School is not just a place to learn. School is a place for social interactions. It cannot easily be replaced by learning online.”
Roberdeau agreed that isolation during the pandemic only intensified feelings of anxiety and depression for all people. He said interactions in the classroom make a difference. Teachers are the “first line of defense” because they see students every day, he added.
He also wants to see any additional funding go toward mental health services rather than fancy new playground equipment, he said.
According to Cast, the state of Washington does not provide funding for mental health counselors in Northshore schools. In order to provide options for students, she said, the district has to "get creative and resourceful" with community partners. She said funds from local levies and initiatives have been critical in helping to find additional counselors and mental health supports.
Felt said she wants to see measurable results to ensure students are actually receiving the help and support they need.
“We can say we have more counselors,” Felt said. “But are we able to say they are helping?”
Fry added that NSD needs to reframe what anxiety looks like in kids. Just because a student is high achieving, she said, does not mean they are doing well mentally.
“The mental health crisis with our students did not start with Covid. It was there before,” Hayes said. “And it will be back this fall when we’re in person.”
Hayes said the three contributors to poor mental health are sleep deprivation, bullying and anxiety. The district is seeing lots of black and brown students choose to stay remote as a result of bullying, she said.
“We have work to do in our community to make sure that all students feel safe and welcome and respected,” she said.
According to Felt, NSD does not currently have a racial equity program. She said a clear and measurable curriculum is essential for teachers. Roberdeau agreed that a curriculum is necessary, although he claims tolerance of racism is the first issue to address.
“The key, in my mind, is holding people accountable to no tolerance of racism,” Roberdeau said. “We can talk about building a curriculum, but first and foremost, we got to stop tolerating it.”
Fry shared the racism she experienced as the first Asian student to enroll in her school district about 40 years ago. She said there has been nothing preventing teachers from “going rouge” for 150 years in public school. Just having policies in place isn’t enough, she said, and children of color are “not reaping the benefits” of these policies.
“It’s uncomfortable to talk about race. It’s uncomfortable to talk about racism,” she said. “But it will benefit everybody – the community and our children – if we address this head-on and address it immediately.”
Cast said there needs to be a curriculum that reflects the diversity in the community. She wants the district to add more books and conversations that represent all cultures in Northshore, she said. McGourty called for a complete review of current curricula and textbooks to ensure nothing is teaching students to be racist.
“We, as a community, have a long way to go,” McGourty said. “We’ve come a long way, and that’s hopeful.”
Board members represent the district at large, although they must reside in specific geographical areas. All registered voters in the district will get a say on each open position.
The 11 candidates will face off in the Aug. 3 primary election. The top two in each race will continue on to the Nov. 2 general election.