The Everett School District faces a time of transition as voters elect two directors for the five-member school board:
It welcomed last month a new superintendent, Ian Saltzman, former superintendent with Florida’s Palm Beach County School District.
After a bond election to build a fourth high school in the district’s south end fell 5 percentage points short of the 60 percent supermajority it needed for passage in 2018, the district went to the community to redraw boundaries for its three main high schools to address overcrowding at Jackson High. At the same time it tasked a community panel with drafting recommendations for its next bond.
And, as Snohomish County continues its growth, so will Everett School District. Now with an enrollment of more than 20,000 students, that number is expected to grow by about 1,600 more students within the next decade.
Each of the two at-large positions in the election drew three candidates for the six-year posts. Voters in the primary will determine the top two candidates who will go on to the Nov. 5 general election.
Position 1: Incumbent Jamyang Dorjee Nhangkar is challenged by Andrew J. Nicholls and Larisa Karpenko.
Nhangkar was appointed to the board last September, following the resignation of Ted Wenta, who stepped down to concentrate on treatment for cancer; Wenta, known for his work with the district and the YMCA, died this May.
Nhangkar, of Tibetan heritage, was born in Nepal, attended schools in India, and later immigrated to the U.S. He works as a public affairs specialist with Community Transit. His resume also includes time with Economic Alliance Snohomish County and the Puget Sound Business Journal. He has two children, one of whom recently graduated.
Nicholls, with a masters in social work and bachelors in psychology, is a social worker with the Veterans Administration and also is a clinical care manager with EvergreenHealth in Kirkland. He has volunteer experience with suicide prevention, veterans assistance and an organization that assists trauma survivors through art.
Karpenko, an immigrant from Russia who is involved with the region’s Slavic communities, has a degree in music and works as a violin teacher and conducts a youth orchestra in Mukilteo. She also has medical assistant and interpreter certifications. She has four children; one in pre-school and three in district schools.
Each has strengths that would be of use to the board and district.
Nicholls said he hoped to use his background and training in mental health to enhance district programs for suicide prevention and violence prevention. Karpenko’s musical education training would be an asset as the district continues to revitalize an orchestra program at its schools. Nhangkar’s connection with multiple community groups will help the district in coming bond and levy campaigns and other efforts.
In meeting with The Herald Editorial Board, there were no significant areas of disagreement among the three. Nicholls and Karpenko expressed a preference for the next bond to seek improvements throughout the district, while Nhangkar wants the district to try a second time for approval of a fourth high school.
Any of the three would serve the board, the district and its students well, but Nhangkar, coming up on a year of service on the board, has shown himself as engaged and informed during board discussions and votes, even calling in by phone one evening earlier this year to vote against a resolution to surplus some of the contents of the vacant Longfellow Building.
Nhangkar was the choice of the board when he was selected over four other finalists to complete Wenta’s term. Voters can have confidence in affirming his selection.
Position 2: An open seat following the decision of current board president Carol Andrews not to seek reelection, the position is sought by Brian Hollingshead, Janelle Burke and April Berg.
Hollingshead, who has a bachelor’s degree, for 30 years has owned Everett Office Furniture and is active in Everett Rotary, currently serving as its vice-president. He volunteers with the Boy Scouts and with the school district. Both of his daughters graduated from Everett schools.
Janelle Burke, a freelance journalist and photographer, is an active volunteer with the Snohomish County NAACP and the Communities of Color Coalition. She also volunteers with the Everett High School PTA, the district and Snohomish County 4-H. Five of her seven children are currently in district schools. This is her second run for the board, having challenged board member Pam LeSesne in 2017.
April Berg has a degree in history and is a former aerospace program manager. She serves on Mill Creek’s planning commission, where her family lives. She was appointed to the Edmonds School Board and served as its legislative liaison, when she lived in that district, but did not seek election in 2015. She has two children attending two schools in the district and two more in state universities. While living in Oregon, she also served on its higher education board.
Again, each candidate offers varied strengths and focus.
Hollingshead, having employed former school district students, has that perspective to offer the board. He recognizes the district’s diversity and the need to offer equally varied paths, and wants to see further expansion of career and technical education as well as Advanced Placement, College in the High School and Running Start programs.
Burke has concerns about the experiences of some students of color, in particular how discipline and suspensions are handled and the educational alternatives offered struggling students. While Everett has one of the better graduation rates in the state at 95 percent, Burke said she has doubts about how that figure is reached. She also said she would push for better communication and outreach to the community.
Berg, in addition to her educational experience, also was a member of the district committee charged with developing a recommendation to the board for the next school bond. That work brought her to the conclusion that the district, rather than a fourth high school, should focus on asking voters to support improvements throughout the district.
Hollingshead disagrees and would support a fourth high school, noting the over-reliance — even with a coming change in boundaries — in the use of portables at Jackson High School.
Berg, as did the others, said she wants to improve outreach to the community and has proposed development of a citizen’s guide to the district’s budget procedure, a dense process for any agency, which could use some sunlight. Her past experience on the Edmonds School Board, while relatively brief, would still offer some skill in communicating with state lawmakers and working with local governments on increasing the revenue from developer impact fees that could help support school improvements.
Again, voters have three good choices for the post, but Berg offers the broadest range of skills and experience and will provide depth to a strong school board.
Correction: The editorial above has been changed to reflect that April Berg formerly worked as an aerospace program manager; and that Jamyang Dorjee Nhangkar was born in Nepal but is of Tibetan heritage.