LAKE STEVENS — A former college instructor, a substitute teacher, an administrator for the Seattle Police Department and a granddaughter of a former district superintendent are vying for two seats on the Lake Stevens School Board.
Curriculum, COVID-19 mandates, student academic performance and district spending are among the issues. At stake are four-year terms guiding the district of roughly 9,200 students.
Candidates Nina Kim Hanson and Vildan Kirbyresponded to interview requests. Their opponents, Brett Rogers and Carolyn Bennett, respectively, did not. All four have campaign websites to help illuminate their positions.
Hanson, who holds a doctorate in women studies, taught at the University of Washington and was the founding director of Multicultural Life at Northwest University. She, her husband and two young children moved to Lake Stevens a year ago, and she’s been active in several groups including the Lake Stevens BIPOC & Allies organization.
She said her administrative experience and passion for education will help the district contend with budget challenges and the academic demands of a growing student population.
She supports finding resources, maybe through a bond measure, to fix up existing campuses and build a new one to ease overcrowding. “The need is absolutely apparent. I do think it will be something voters will have to vote on sooner than later.”
Hanson said she wants to strengthen and expand arts, music, civics and foreign language offerings. At the same time, the district must ensure students who struggled during a year of remote learning have tutoring and counseling needed to catch up.
On the topic of critical race theory, she and Kirby both noted it is a theory discussed in colleges at the graduate level and is not taught in public schools. Hanson said teaching about “our dynamic cultures” is important and must be done at age-appropriate levels.
“I do see teachers trying to teach accurate history,” Hanson said. “Teachers need to be brave and review curriculum closely and not give in to fear.”
On another hot button issue, Hanson endorsed the state’s mask mandate “to be sure our kids are as safe as possible.”
Rogers, who did not reply to emails or phone calls, has a law degree from Seattle University. He is parking enforcement operations manager for the Seattle Police Department, according to his LinkedIn page. He formerly handled internal investigations for Seattle Public Schools, according to his candidate statement.
This is not his first run for office. A conservative Republican, he ran for state attorney general in 2020, finishing third in the primary. School board directors are non-partisan.
In his campaign materials, Rogers says district spending is increasing but too many students are not meeting state standards in English and math. “Why should we continually spend more money on a broken system that is failing too many of our children?” he writes.
He vows to involve parents more in making decisions about curriculum.
“Parents have the right to know what their child is being taught in the classroom,” he says on his campaign website. “The curriculum must NOT include social agendas, partisan politics or personal beliefs. Government schools must not override family values or parental rights.”
On Facebook, Rogers has said he opposes mandatory masks and vaccinations for school district staff “and especially for our children.”
Kirby holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and is a substitute teacher in the district. Born in Istanbul, Turkey, she arrived in the United States in 1988 and became a citizen in 1996. She, her husband and their two middle-school-aged children have lived in Lake Stevens for eight years.
Jarred by the suicides of Lake Stevens students in recent years, she said, she entered the race to work to bolster the availability of mental health resources.
“I want to see more mental health services in our schools so we don’t lose another kid to suicide or anything else,” she said. “I want to see positivity in the classrooms. I believe deeply in passion, empathy and kindness.”
With increasing numbers of students, the district will need to raise money, possibly from a bond, to buy land or build schools, she said.
Masks and vaccines are important to protect the health and safety of students and staff against coronavirus infection, she said. Preventing infection is crucial to ensure students’ in-person learning is not derailed and they are forced back into remote learning, she said.
“We should look to science and we should follow science. Science shows masks are working and vaccines are working,” she said. “To me, masks and curriculum are not a partisan issue but a science issue.”
“They were screaming the f-word at me. I was in my car. My hand was not outside. I got really upset,” she said.
Since then, Kirby said, she’s received hate messages and threats, but voters have not brought it up with her.
Bennett, who did not reply to emails or voice mails, grew up in Lake Stevens and attended public and private schools. Her grandfather, Donald D. Oates, served as the superintendent of the Lake Stevens School District from 1957-74.
She attended community college and University of Washington Bothell, and served in the U.S. Marine Corps, according to her campaign website. She works for a valve manufacturing firm in Redmond. Bennett serves on the Lake Stevens Salary Commission and backed the $80,000 annual salary for Brett Gailey, the city’s first full-time mayor. At the time she said she thought it should be higher.
On Bennett’s website, she said she is “committed” to “create better transparency” between the school board and families. And she cited several issues she wants to address, including “non-objective teaching of subject matter in classrooms, need for careful and common sense spending of taxpayer dollars, a more balanced school board with diverse professional backgrounds and perspectives that better represent the community.”