EVERETT — Two open positions on the Everett School Board have drawn six candidates hoping to make their way onto the November ballot. On the line is a six-year term representing a district that served 20,460 students in 2018.
Brian Hollingshead, Janelle Burke and April Berg are in the running for Position 2. School Board President Carol Andrews chose not to seek reelection following 12 years on the board.
Director-at-Large Position 1
Jamyang Dorjee Nhangkar
Nhangkar, 48, of Everett is a public affairs specialist at Community Transit and a father of two children, one a recent graduate of the district. After a year on the board, Nhangkar said he still has much to learn, but has formed habits that will make him successful during another term. If elected, Nhangkar said he would work on finding areas of improvement instead of reinventing a successful district.
“I think the key for me is to listen to those attentively and seek opportunities where we are not doing as good,” he said. “I know there are pockets where things can be improved.”
Overcrowding is a desperate situation, according to Nhangkar, and adding a fourth high school is a simple, cut-and-dry necessity.
‘We can’t have quality schools if they are overcrowded,” he said.
Creating safe and welcoming schools and exposing students to internships, vocational opportunities and careers are his other priorities.
Nhangkar has endorsements from all his peers on the Everett School Board.
Andrew J. Nicholls
Nicholls, 35, of Everett is a research social worker with the VA Puget Sound Medical Center. With two children who will soon be entering school in the district’s north end, Nicholls said he has a vested interest in the district’s success. As he began to look at schools for his children, Nicholls became upset by the number of people recommending he should send his children elsewhere.
“I really want to address that inequality in the system and I want to set up a school district and schools that I am going to be proud to have my children in,” Nicholls said. “We want to see our community improved, and the only way to do that is to get involved.”
If elected, elevating performance at all schools to provide students with an equal playing field would be a priority. While Nicholls said his goals would depend on the issues in front of the district, reducing class sizes and improving mental health services would be paramount. Nicholls vowed to work closely with teachers to see where the district may be lacking and garner buy-in from parents with proper evidence and a clear rationale for decisions.
“If we aren’t giving that to parents that is a big failure on our part, so we need to correct that,” he said.
Karpenko, 36, of Everett is a symphony orchestra conductor at Unison Music School in Mukilteo, a PTA volunteer and a mother of four kids in the district. After immigrating to America from Russia in 2001, Karpenko said she developed a deep love for her community. After working with kids for years, she said she is ready to assist from an elected position.
“Having my own kids I am learning along with them, it is preparing me to see other kids’ needs and help solve those,” she said.
Curating relationships, teamwork and communication will be instrumental, she said. Karpenko plans to support trade and arts programs, increase graduation rates and raise the ratings of district schools.
While she is a proponent of a new high school and school uniforms, she would listen to constituents before making decisions.
“If people will vote for me, I will make sure that other districts will see the changes we make and they will want to do them, too,” Karpenko said.
Director-at-Large Position 2
Hollingshead, 64, of Everett is the owner of Everett Office Furniture, the vice president of the Everett Rotary Club and a father of two children who graduated from the Everett School District. As the eldest candidate and with his business background, Hollingshead said he can bring a different, big-picture perspective to the board.
“All the things are in place where (Everett) is going to grow as a community and I think great schools are a part of a great community,” Hollingshead said. ”What I would hopefully do on the board is take what has already been done and add to it.”
Hollingshead has never run for elected office before and will never run again. He wants to assure voters that he isn’t using this position as a stepping stone. Vocational training opportunities, managing growth and as much openness as possible, would be his priorities.
“One of the liabilities of the past administration, is they did things and they did it their way without discussing it,” Hollingshead said. “Having more people involved — even if you don’t get your way — you feel better about it.”
He lists endorsements from former Everett Superintendent Gary Cohn, Everett School Board members Carol Andrews and Traci Mitchell, as well as elected officials Cyrus Habib, Marko Liias and June Robinson.
Burke, 38, of Everett is a freelance journalist, a volunteer with Snohomish County NAACP and the Communities of Color Coalition, and is a stay-at-home mom of seven children with five in the district. Having a child who has faced disciplinary issues in the district, she said the experience has shown her that, at times, children are being harmed in the interest of the district’s image.
“I’ve just seen too many things that should not be happening in the school environment,” Burke said, listing the treatment of students of color by school resource officers and falsified graduation rates and student records as examples.
In addition to getting the resource officers “in-line,” Burke would increase communication and engagement from the school board, while installing programs in schools that encourage students to invest in themselves.
She said a lack of transparency is behind the current uniform debate at Tambark Creek Elementary and controversy surrounding the Housing Hope project at Norton Playfield.
“I am a very non-traditional candidate,” Burke said “In being a mother who is, unfortunately, inside of what is happening, the mindset there is so much different from the traditional candidates who see the political side of it and I am not for politicizing the children.”
Berg, 45, of Mill Creek is a planning commissioner for the city. She spent two years on the Edmonds School Board and was appointed to the capital bond planning commission for the Everett School District. If elected, her top priority is growth mitigation planning, however after what she’s learned on the district’s commission, she isn’t immediately in favor of asking voters to fund another high school due to previous bond failures.
“Absolutely, unequivocally, we need (a fourth high school) and I want it. Is 2020 the right time to put it on the bond and give it to voters? It’s just not,” said Berg, a mother of six, including two kids in Everett schools.
Instead, she would continue creating a dialogue with voters while modernizing other schools where needs have piled up. Berg would work to increase accessibility to career and vocational programs within high schools and decrease disparity in the graduation and discipline rates for students of color by examining why gaps exist. She vows to make the school board a more accessible body.
”I’ve got experience and passion around educational advocacy,” she said. “I can hit the ground running, I understand what it takes to be a board member.”
She has endorsements from Everett School Board Director Pam LeSense and state Reps. John Lovick, Jared Mead and Strom Peterson.
Primary ballots must be returned or postmarked no later than Aug. 6. Voters can either mail their ballots back, no stamp required, or place them in one of the county’s 19 designated drop boxes which will be open until 8 p.m. Aug. 6.
The top two candidates will advance to the Nov. 5 general election.