It’s unfortunate that transparency and accountability to the public are front-and-center issues in this year’s races for Everett School Board. It was also inevitable.
A dispute over a student newspaper that could and should have been resolved with a dose of common sense was followed by a series of administrative missteps that resulted in wasted time, attention and money. They included the secret placement of a camera in a classroom ceiling to record a teacher’s actions. More than $200,000 of public money has been spent on lawyers in these cases.
One incumbent, Karen Madsen, is seeking re-election to Position 4 against first-time candidate Jessica Olson. In the other race, newcomers Pam LeSesne and Jeff Russell are vying to replace longtime board member Sue Cooper, who decided not to run again.
We endorse Olson, an outspoken critic of the district who would bring a strong voice of transparency and accountability to a school board that needs it.
Olson is battling the district over access to documents related to the education of her 13-year-old son, who has autism. A lawsuit is pending. She believes the district needs to return to basics in teaching math and reading, a complicated debate for which she’s clearly ready.
She’s highly critical of the district’s handling of the student-newspaper and hidden-camera fiascos, and further chides the board for hiring a new superintendent without allowing the public to provide input on the finalists. Madsen, like other board members, argues that not making the finalists public drew a more talented pool of candidates. We agree with Olson that given the recent history, the hiring process showed a board that greatly undervalues openness to the public it serves.
On academic issues, Madsen is clearly capable. She’s a former teacher and a longtime educational consultant, and serves as the elected president of the state School Directors Association. She points to strides the district has made in improving test scores and lowering the dropout rate. She says she has few regrets about how any of the recent controversies were handled, though, which we find troubling.
In a close call between two strong candidates for Position 3, we endorse LeSesne. Both she and Russell have leadership experience, LeSesne as a retired Navy captain, Russell as a Lutheran pastor.
LeSesne, who spent years training young sailors, is a strong advocate for expanding vocational opportunities by building stronger mentoring relationships with business and labor. Students who might go directly into the trades after graduation need to see the relevance between what they’re being taught and how they’ll make a living, she argues. Her experience working with Habitat for Humanity has given her valuable insights to the needs the district’s immigrant communities.
Russell’s experience as a volunteer for a host of community organizations, including the school district, shows his commitment. Like LeSesne, he argues for a greater focus on vocational education, which he believes new Superintendent Gary Cohn will bring, and says the school board must do a far better job of exercising oversight of the administration.