Voting thing

Editorial: Edmonds, Mukilteo school board endorsements

For Edmonds, Melissa Stepp is endorsed; for Mukilteo, Judy Schwab and Jayme Lee Vail.

By The Herald Editorial Board

Edmonds School Board

The Edmonds School District serves nearly 21,000 students, employs more than 1,300 teachers and operates 34 schools in Edmonds, Lynnwood, Woodway, Mountlake Terrace, Brier and unincorporated areas of southwest Snohomish County. A racially and economically diverse district, about 45 percent of its students are white, 22 percent are Hispanic, 13 percent are of Asian heritage and 7 percent are Black/African-American. More than 130 languages are spoken by the district’s students.

District 2 director: The decision by school board member Ann McMurray not to seek reelection after serving four terms in office, opened the position to two candidates. Seeking the position are two first-time candidates Melissa Stepp and Keith Smith

Smith, a graduate of Mountlake Terrace High School, recently took a teaching job with the Granite Falls School District after working there as a substitute teacher. He also has worked as a high school and youth sports official in the Edmonds and Shoreline districts. Smith also has served on the Snohomish County Council on Aging and the county’s Children’s Commission. Smith has a bachelor’s degree in law and justice. He also served between 2014 and 2016 as a volunteer guardian ad-litem with the county’s juvenile court system.

Smith was unable to attend a scheduled joint interview with the editorial board and did not reschedule.

Stepp is a graduate of Lake Stevens High School and attended schools in King and Snohomish counties. She earned a bachelor’s degree in speech and communications from the University of Hawaii and is currently employed as director of operations and a glass artist at a glass art studio in Woodinville.

During an interview with the editorial board, Stepp said she doesn’t have children, but felt called to run for the school board as a way to serve her community. Her own learning experience at both culturally diverse schools and schools with less diversity, she said, led her to see the value in quality schools and education.

Stepp has prepared to run and serve on the board, she said, by researching the district, viewing online board meetings and talking with school board members and teachers. Stepp said she is comfortable with the procedures and policies the district has taken to safely return to in-person classes, as well as with the state’s mandates for masks and vaccinations.

Likewise, Stepp sees an advantage to continuing an online component for the school board’s meetings, as it increases the opportunity for district parents, students and community members to participate.

As a board member, Stepp said, she would focus on the district’s curriculum reviews and its testing. Stepp said she was concerned about the balance between “teaching to the test” and teaching to learn.

Stepp also said she wants to follow the district’s plans for dual-language learning and a switch for middle schools for seventh- and eighth-graders to middle schools serving sixth- through eighth-grade. Regarding dual-language programs, the district is preparing two elementary schools where students will learn 90 percent in Spanish and 10 percent in English, rather than a 50-50 model. Stepp said she’s reviewed studies supporting each model, and wants to follow the schools’ progress.

While both candidates appear to be focused on the best interests of the district’s students, Stepp has followed her filing for office with research and discussions that should make her a capable member of the school board with an interest in listening and representing her community.

District 4 director: Deborah Kilgore, who was first elected in 2017, and is currently board president, is running unopposed.

Mukilteo School District

The school district serves about 15,000 students at 20 schools in an economically and culturally diverse community that includes the city of Mukilteo and portions of Everett, Lynnwood and Edmonds.

District 2 director: Judy Schwab, seeking reelection to a seventh term on the school board, is its longest-serving current member.

She is challenged by Peter Swardstrom, who is employed in business development and program management. Swardstrom has volunteered as a youth sports coach in tee-ball, baseball, basketball and flag football and has served six years as a Young Life leader at Kamiak High. He has two children at district schools. Swardstrom responded to an initial email from the editorial board but did not reply to a request to schedule an interview.

Readers should note that Schwab is the wife of Herald Opinion columnist Sid Schwab; however, Sid Schwab does not participate in the editorial board’s consideration of candidates for endorsements for this or other political offices.

Judy Schwab earned a bachelor’s degree in child psychology from Harvard, then took graduate courses in the education of low-income students. She taught non-English-speaking second-graders briefly in San Francisco, before returning to Washington state and moving into the Mukilteo School District in 1982, where her son attended, graduating from Kamiak in 1996. Schwab ran successfully for the school board the following year.

Schwab in her nearly 24 years on the board has seen her share of controversy and turmoil, so the current wave of discontent seen before some school boards, in particular regarding covid-19 mask and vaccine mandates, has some familiarity. Schwab said the board has had a history of allowing parents and community members an opportunity to express their concerns on a range of subjects, assuring those concerns and objections are heard and considered.

Regarding the mandates from the state and county health district, Schwab said the district has followed those mandates while attempting to address and accommodate parents’ and employees’ concerns where possible.

Schwab defends a recent decision by the board to renew its contracts with the Everett and Mukilteo police departments and the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office to provide school resource officers. While some have raised concerns about the officers being an intimidating presence for some students, in particular students of color, Schwab said the board found that students largely view their relations with the officers as positive interactions.

If reelected, Schwab said she is looking forward to continuing her and the board’s work with Superintendent Dr. Alison Brynelson, who started at the district in January 2020, just prior to the start of the covid-19 pandemic. Brynleson has helped lead the district during a challenging time. Schwab said she intends to work with Brynelson to sustain the district’s efforts in identifying student achievement gaps, intervening to address those gaps and working to get all students to reach high standards.

Schwab’s continued enthusiasm for her work on the board in the service of district students merits a seventh term.

District 4 director: The decision by current school board member Shaun Olsen not to seek reelection drew the candidacies of Charles Hauck and Jayme Lee Vail.

Vail is the mother of two students in the district and is employed in a long-term care and assisted-living, caring for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Hauck is a real estate broker and has three grandchildren who will be attending Mukilteo schools. Hauck did not respond to a request to participate in an interview with the editorial board.

Vail has been active in the PTA and on a PTA board and as a classroom volunteer since her eldest child started school in 2012. A second child will begin school in coming years. That experience and the continuing relationships she developed with teachers and school staff have prepared her for serving on the school board, she said. “And I’m a mom,” she said, which provides her a useful perspective.

Along with her classroom and PTA experience, Vail said she has also relied on recent conversations with board member Judy Schwab. Vail she said would have particular interests as a board member regarding issues of diversity, equity and inclusion at district schools.

“It’s important to me because — Mukilteo, especially — we are so diverse,” she said. District 4, Vail noted, has a significant number of lower-income families, “so equity is huge for me,” and she wants to assure ample resources for her district’s schools.

Vail has been watching Mukilteo School Board meetings online and has seen examples of some of the concerns regarding the mask and vaccine mandates before other boards. In regard to the mandates, there isn’t a decision for the district to make, but Vail said she’s committed to listening to parents and community member regarding all concerns, and making sure that those concerns are heard.

If elected, Vail said she intended to follow student achievement closely, perhaps with more focus on individualized education plans for students to learn their needs and better guide their education. Vail said this will be especially important as the schools continue to deal with the pandemic and issues that developed during remote learning.

Vail, during her interview, showed herself to have started her work to add to her personal knowledge of Mukilteo’s schools, consult with others in the district and approach the position from her “mom” perspective.

Voters should welcome that perspective to the board by electing Vail.

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