Top row (L-R): Tiana Armstrong, Jeremiah Campbell, Melanie Ryan. Bottom row (L-R) Chuck Whitfield, Jennifer Bumpus, Andrew Fegler

Top row (L-R): Tiana Armstrong, Jeremiah Campbell, Melanie Ryan. Bottom row (L-R) Chuck Whitfield, Jennifer Bumpus, Andrew Fegler

After Monroe superintendent turmoil, 1 school board race is contested

Candidates have dropped out of races leading up to the general election, leaving one of four seats with a real campaign trail.

MONROE — Education deficits, diversity and responsible spending are among the pressing issues for school board candidates in Monroe, a district still reeling from the resignation of an embattled superintendent.

Voters will decide on four seats on the board of directors.

Three seats appear to be already decided.

In the only contested campaign, Melanie Ryan is challenging incumbent Chuck Whitfield in District 2.

Ryan, former board president for Monroe Equity Community, has pushed for broader inclusion within the school district for years. Whitfield is running on experience and continuity on the board.

The election comes after Justin Blasko resigned as superintendent amid allegations he created a toxic workplace and mishandled racist incidents in schools.

The school board has since hired a new superintendent, Shawn Woodward.

District directors are elected to four-year terms. School board members are paid up to $4,800 per year.

District 1 represents northeast Monroe north of U.S. 2; District 2 is east of that section; District 3 is the southeastern slice of the district; and District 4 is Clearview, Maltby and Echo Lake. District 5 covers the north side of Highway 522 to Lake Tye.

District 2

Melanie Ryan

Ryan, 52, led the charge bringing awareness to the issues with Blasko.

“During that time, there were quite a few issues that were surfacing within our school district,” Ryan said. “And families and teachers and staff were really having trouble getting their voices and their stories heard.”

In 2023, test scores showed over 62% of Monroe students did not meet standards for math. Over half did not meet state reading level standards.

“We need to get ourselves back up to the current set of best practices around teaching and learning. That is our responsibility as adults to invest in their futures,” Ryan said. “We absolutely cannot — and I hear this over and over again — we cannot lament about student test scores without investing to change that.”

Melanie Ryan

Melanie Ryan

Ryan said the district has also not had a strategic plan in the last decade, which she feels is a major gap.

Ryan would like to see more engagement between parents and staff. She said she would push for more paraeducators in the classroom. She feels providing proper materials for teachers working with multilingual learners is important.

There is a “crisis of culture” in the district, said Ryan, who serves as CEO of a firm teaching cultural competency.

“We have a long history of families and educators and staff leaving our district because of harassment, intimidation, bullying and a lack of belonging,” Ryan said. “I would say that starts at the top and it starts at the school board for the well being of those who work and learn in this district.

She added: “It’s critical this board recognizes the work that needs to be done with our culture and responds with action.”

Chuck Whitfield

Whitfield, 66, who is running to retain his seat, has said the major issues facing the district are achievement, school safety and mental health.

Continuity on the board is also important, he said. Whitfield believes stability on the school board affects student performance. There is some research that supports this.

“It would be easier not to run, but one of the things I want to see is high achievement come to fruition,” Whitfield said.

Whitfield, who feels the district is spending its money effectively, plans to address the first with a strategic plan done by April 2024. This would include a scorecard for growth and achievement.

Chuck Whitfield

Chuck Whitfield

“A priority I have as a school director is that we hold ourselves, the teachers and the system at large accountable for student learning and achievement,” Whitfield said in a campaign video posted to Facebook. “Students need to learn skills that will help them have a successful life.”

He also said the board would dedicate at least two meetings to “improve the physical vulnerabilities of our school campuses.” He said he would push for the district to find community funding to address some of those safety measures.

Fighting back against bullying in schools is also a priority, he said, as is inclusion.

Whitfield said the school district needs a strategic plan, and that he has fought for one. He said the district has used something called “visioning” — a process for setting goals each year — which he said was a “backward” way to go about moving the schools forward.

“It’s drove me frickin’ crazy,” Whitfield said. “… Through my pressuring, I helped facilitate the board’s goals for the school year. I have been pounding my fist.”

There was no primary in District 2.

District 1

Jeremiah Campbell, 40, wants to address an “education deficit,” with a focus on multilingual learners and fiscal responsibility.

That deficit can be traced to virtual learning during the COVID era. It left many children struggling to catch up to pre-pandemic standards. It’s not just test scores, either, as a recent national survey found over 70% of 1,000 polled educators said students are misbehaving now more than they did in 2019, before the pandemic.

Campbell said there is no “silver bullet” to fix the problem.

“They don’t go out and play in the with other kids, they don’t ride their bikes to their friend’s house,” Campbell said. “They play with each other online or they text each other.”

He added: “When you come back to school after being in school online, you run into all kids of social barriers that have come from that.”

Jeremiah Campbell

Jeremiah Campbell

Campbell’s opponent, Tiana Armstrong, said on social media she had moved out of the district and was no longer running. In the primary, she threw her support behind candidate Crystal Blakey. However, Armstrong still finished second in the primary, qualifying her for the general election. Armstrong did not respond to an interview request.

District 4

No one filed to run against James Etzkorn for a two-year unexpired term.

Etzkorn, an engineering manager, said in a campaign statement that he will use his background “to make data-driven decisions and take a solution oriented approach to tackle the district’s challenges. He will work to avoid the blame game and instead help focus on the problem at hand, identify potential solutions, evaluate solutions that have demonstrated success, and fight to implement those solutions.”

District 5

Jennifer Bumpus, 38, was appointed in July 2020 as a school board director in District 5. She kept her seat in the 2021 election.

Bumpus owns Elite Training Academy in downtown Monroe with her husband, former Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Michael Bumpus. She serves on the city’s Salary Commission.

Bumpus said in the voter’s pamphlet she attends The Rock Church, which has provided some members with exemptions to vaccines for religious reasons. Bumpus declined to directly say if she received an exemption for the COVID vaccine, or whether she thinks that vaccine should be required for students.

Jennifer Bumpus

Jennifer Bumpus

“While I understand that discussing personal health choices can be sensitive, I can assure you that I always prioritize the well-being and safety of our community,” Bumpus wrote in an email.

She graduated from Monroe High School in 2003.

“My priorities for the Board would be to focus our work on academic achievement, fiscal responsibility, student safety, family partnerships, and to amplify student voice,” Bumpus wrote in an email. “Addressing these issues will require thoughtful planning and collaboration and I am excited to move forward with the strategic planning process to ensure a successful educational environment for all students in our district.”

Andrew Fegler dropped out of the race, according to The Snohomish Tribune. He did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Daily Herald.

“My name still remains on the ballot, and my mission to serve the district remains true,” Fegler told the Tribune. “However, I decided not to campaign for this position due to some personal life changes and obstacles.”

Jordan Hansen: 425-339-3046; jordan.hansen@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @jordyhansen.

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