Count on a busy first few months of 2018 for the Everett School District and its board of directors.
The district is planning to go to voters in February to approve a bond that would build a fourth high school in the district in the Bothell area. And the district, like others throughout the state, continues to evaluate the effects and expectations of the Legislature’s school funding solution during this year’s session, even as the state Supreme Court deliberates whether the plan set out by lawmakers is adequate and fair to the state’s schools.
Current school board member Pam LeSesne, who won election to her first six-year term in 2011, after a previous unsuccessful bid two years before, is challenged by Janelle Nixon-Burke, a school district parent.
Nixon-Burke, a transplant from the St. Louis region, is the mother of seven children and calls herself a “neighborhood mom,” doing what she can for the kids that she knows. Last year, she celebrated the graduation of several students in her neighborhood.
Nixon-Burke works as a freelance journalist but also describes herself as an ordained minister, website designer, civil rights activist and youth advocate. Locally, she said, she’s worked with the county NAACP chapter and the YWCA.
Two of her seven children are currently enrolled in the district, and her experience as a parent has given her an appreciation for the struggles that some parents and students face with discipline. As a board member, Nixon-Burke said, she wants to serve as an advocate for parents and students, particularly those who do struggle.
While acknowledging the success Everett schools have had in recent years with graduation rates, if the district hopes to attain a 100 percent graduation rate it will have to work most closely with students at all grade levels who are struggling, Nixon-Burke said in a recent interview with the editorial board.
On that need and others, Nixon-Burke displays a sincere desire to serve students, parents and the district, but LeSesne has shown herself as one of the board’s leaders with a strong understanding of the issues the district faces and the ability to pursue solutions.
LeSesne, retired as a captain after a 26-year career with the U.S. Navy, calls herself a product of public education whose two sons are graduates of Cascade High School. That has fueled her advocacy for public schools in general and the Everett School District in particular.
Six years ago, LeSesne pledged to ensure that students were supported and challenged, to listen to the concerns and input of parents, teachers, staff and others and focus on strengthening core education while increasing support for the arts, music and athletics. LeSesne has kept those promises.
During her first term, LeSesne has been key to the district’s 2016 success in passing a bond and levy request that is now building a new elementary school and modernizing and maintaining schools, adding portables to handle growing enrollment and improving technology and security throughout the district. But the measures’ success in 2016 followed two failed attempts in 2014, one which was less than 2 percentage points shy of the 60 percent requirement.
LeSesne took the 2014 losses seriously and went to voters and parents for answers, seeking them out one-on-one and specifically requesting voters email her with their concerns regarding the bond proposals, input that helped the board adjust its request to secure voter approval.
LeSesne, along with others on the board, has also demonstrated fiscal responsibility by recently voting to take the difficult step of seeking to seize property for the new high school through the process of eminent domain. Faced with property owners reluctant to accept the district’s fair-market offer, the board voted 4-0 to use its eminent domain power. The use of such power is rarely popular, but it’s necessary to protect district taxpayers from incurring an inflated price for property needed for growth.
LeSesne has new goals for her next term, including work to improve the district’s 90 percent four-year graduation rate, increasing the number of students in Advanced Placement, Honors and Challenging courses, integrating STEM and 21st Century skills in classes at all grade levels and returning string and orchestra programs to the schools.
Six years is a long period for voters to entrust to a public official, but LeSesne has more than earned that trust and deserves re-election.