By The Herald Editorial Board
Voters in the Marysville and Everett school districts have choices to make for their school boards in the Aug. 3 primary, leading up to the Nov. 2 general election.
Marysville School District
Following recent months of community turmoil and changes in district leadership, school district residents can expect at least three new members on the district’s board of directors to address those challenges; among four seats up for election, only one current school board member is running for reelection. School board president Vanessa Edwards, representing District 4’s easternmost neighborhoods, drew three challengers: Clarence Shaw, Jim Ross and Wade Reinhardt.
Voters in the fall will choose between Ray Sheldon Jr. and Connor Krebs in District 1; Sherry Weersing and Rilee Louangphakdy in District 3; Katie Jackson, who is running unopposed in District 5; and the top two District 4 candidates from the primary.
Following elections, Marysville’s school board will have work ahead to regain the trust of the community and district teachers and in building a working relationship with a second interim superintendent as the district awaits the return of Superintendent Jason Thompson, who has been out on medical leave since March. Earlier this month Chris Pearson was named interim superintendent after the previous intermediate superintendent, Lori Knudson, accepted a position as executive director of elementary schools for the district.
In April, following reports of threats of harm by students against minority students and dissatisfaction in how the threats were handled and in the delay in setting boundaries for schools, about 85 percent of the district’s teachers union voted no confidence in the board.
Edwards, first elected in 2017, has served one term on the board and has 13 years of experience with the district as a parent, volunteer and employee. She has a bachelor’s degree in business administration and is working toward a teaching certificate. Edwards was contacted to participate in an interview with the editorial board but did not return repeated requests to schedule an interview.
Shaw, who ran for the board in 2017, is a U.S. Army veteran and has previously worked for the state. He has a master’s in public administration and has served on county boards and committees.
Ross, a father of five children currently enrolled in Marysville schools, works in telecommunications and has served on the district’s parent advisory council. He has a bachelor’s in forest resources management.
Reinhardt, the father of two children enrolled in district schools, works in account management for a fire safety contractor with major employers. He has a bachelor’s degree in municipal management and has volunteered as a coach and has led technology classes for elementary students.
All three candidates interviewed by the editorial board demonstrated strong understanding of the issues facing the district and its students and have made connections in the community that would serve them as a board member.
Ross said the school board would benefit from a greater emphasis on transparency in its discussions and decisions and should seek better outreach with teachers, who serve as advocates for children. While staying focused on instruction, Ross said the board must also ensure that its schools are welcoming and inclusive for all students to create a good learning environment.
Shaw said he has reached out to officials in the community and wants to see the board build its relationships with officials, organizations, parents, teachers and other district employees. He suggested the board arrange retreats with stakeholders to “flush this stuff out,” regarding the threats and the district’s response.
Reinhardt sees an opportunity for the next board to make a fresh start and end the cycle of two-steps-forward-and-one-back that the district has experienced and to regain the trust of the community. On issues of academics, Reinhardt says the board should put greater focus on outcomes, noting that it spends the same per student as most other school districts, yet still struggles in terms of student achievement in math and language arts and graduation rates.
In marking their ballots for the primary, voters are fortunate to have four strong candidates to consider.
Edwards’ term has been marked with turmoil within the district, but it would be unfair — as the only incumbent braving reelection this year — to lay the full responsibility for the district’s struggles at her feet. The board, which will add at least three new members, might benefit from her continued presence.
Ross, Shaw and Reinhardt, however, showed a firm understanding of the challenges — societal, administrative, financial and academic — facing the district and its students, especially as Marysville schools gear up to return to classrooms this fall.
The four candidates each have their strengths, but voters should choose either Ross or Reinhardt as the best candidates to advance to the general election.
Everett School District
Everett School District voters will consider races for two of the school board’s five at-large seats with incumbents challenged in both.
Traci Mitchell has served on the board since she was appointed to her Position 4 seat in 2014, winning election in 2015. She is challenged By Charles Mister Jr. and Janelle Burke, who ran in 2017 and 2019 for the school board.
Caroline Mason, like Mitchell, was appointed to the board in 2014 and won election in 2015. She will face challenger Jeannie Magdua on the November ballot for the Position 3 seat.
Mister was previously employed in law enforcement, working with juveniles and with children and family services. He also has served as a foster parent. He has a master’s degree in child behavior.
Burke, in interviews for past elections, said she is the mother of seven children and called herself a “neighborhood mom.” She described herself as a freelance journalist, an ordained minister, website designer, civil rights activist, paralegal and youth advocate. She’s worked with the county NAACP chapter and the YWCA.
Neither Mister nor Burke responded to requests to participate in a joint interview.
Mitchell has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s in health administration and is a doctor of pharmacy.
Mitchell, whose daughter graduated last year during the height of the pandemic, acknowledged that the last year and a half has been a challenge for the school district, but said earlier board decisions — the hiring of Ian Saltzman as superintendent two years ago and the decision to have tablet computers available for all students as well as delivery of school meals — served students well during the pandemic. Saltzman, Mitchell said, has put an emphasis on transparency throughout the district. And the investment in hardware and internet connections helped keep students attending remote learning during the pandemic.
As difficult as remote learning was, Mitchell said, teachers, students and others learned a great deal about new tools for education that shouldn’t be shelved just because students have returned to classrooms.
Among other accomplishments during the pandemic, Mitchell said, the district pushed through adoption of a new math curriculum that students will begin learning from this fall. Mitchell also considers the district’s hiring of three additional child social workers as a benefit for students and a board accomplishment.
Mitchell said the biggest priority for herself and the board will be immediate work for reopening schools this fall and addressing how best to get some students back up to standards following the pandemic.
A volunteer with the county health district’s vaccination program, Mitchell said she’s been talking with students getting the vaccine, “and everybody’s really looking forward to getting back to school; with rare exceptions,” she said.
Mitchell, who has volunteered with the district’s foundation and has been active in past bond and levy campaigns, has proved her value to the board and the district as a thoughtful representative for parents, students and the public. Her reelection by voters will continue that service and oversight.