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School board candidates weigh in on issues as interviews loom

Hopefuls - Three people are seeking appointment to Shawn Vilhauer's seat on the Forest Grove panel

Three candidates for an interim position on the Forest Grove School Board have weighed in on questions posed by the News-Times staff about issues the district will face in the next 12 months.

Candidates for Shawn Vilhauer's Position 3 seat - Alisa Hampton, Elliot Howard and Herb Drew - will be put through their paces this afternoon during interviews with the remaining board members.

Interviews are set to begin at 3 p.m. in the district administration building, 1728 Main St., and the public is welcome to attend. The board plans to announce its selection April 28. The new member will take his or her place on the panel May 12.

Hampton, who answered seven of the 11 questions, and Howard, who answered all but one, returned their responses via e-mail. Drew answered three of the questions, saying he didn't have enough information to respond to the others.

Drew, a former Forest Grove city councilor, owns an insurance and investment business in town.

Howard, father of a first-grader at Dilley Elementary School, is a software engineer.

Hampton, a global strategies manager at Intel Corp. in Hillsboro, is the mother of four children, three attending Forest Grove schools.

Although the candidates are not vying for elected office at this time, News-Times publisher John Schrag and associate editor Nancy Townsley wanted to give them an opportunity to introduce themselves by discussing their ideas about a proposed School Based Health Center, the Cornelius/Forest Grove school split and progress at Neil Armstrong Middle School, among other topics.

Following are excerpts from their answers to our questions:

What's the single most important issue you think the board will face in the next 12 months?

Hampton: At all times, the most important concern of the school board and district is ensuring that all of the students in our schools stay the primary focus.

Howard: Dealing with the diversity of new students moving into the district and trying to teach each student at the optimal learning rate for that student.

What's your opinion about the proposed School Based Health Center?

Hampton: In general I think it looks like a program that has been effective in other areas. I think the idea makes sense and appears to fill a need that exists.

Howard: I think it would be a great benefit to students in providing preventive medicine, testing and simple nurse practitioner remedies. The downside is that it might only be used by uninsured students, and thus become a financial burden on the school district.

Students who live in Cornelius attend schools in either the Forest Grove School District or the Hillsboro School District. A few Cornelius city councilors are interested in brokering a solution to what they see is a 'split' community. What can you bring to the table in the way of suggestions?

Howard: I'm in favor of choice; students should be able to attend whichever school they believe will provide the best education for them. If the students themselves don't see their community as being 'split,' then why should the Cornelius City Council get involved?

If you are appointed to Shawn Vilhauer's seat, what kind of 'voice' will you bring to the board: Fiscally oriented? Program focused? Process focused?

Hampton: My focus and perspective tend to be how to translate a mission, vision or idea into actions that get you to the results you want or need.

Howard: I don't believe process is important; what is important is results. 'How do we quantitatively measure success?' is very important. I hope to work with the other school board members, with input from students and parents, to answer that question and try to get everyone working together toward simple, common goals.

What's the one thing you will tell the folks appointing you - the current board members - that they might not want to hear?

Howard: I believe there should be more focus on accountability, not just rubber-stamping the proposals of the school administration.

What grade would you give the district's new charter school (Forest Grove Community School)? A? B? C? F?

Hampton: I have spoken with several parents who have children enrolled in the Forest Grove Community School, and in general, they are happy with the program so far.

Howard: I love the idea of a charter school, but I think it is too soon to judge the results.

From what you know, rank the district's programs in order of strength, with the strongest program at the top: Elementary schools, Tom McCall Upper Elementary, Neil Armstrong Middle School, Forest Grove High School.

Hampton: I am most familiar with Dilley Elementary School and Tom McCall through personal involvement with my children's education, and have been very impressed with what I've seen, and what my children have experienced, in both schools.

Howard: The elementary schools have a great curriculum and very dedicated staff. I rank them highest because I have had the most direct experience with them. After them I would probably put Forest Grove High School, Tom McCall, and then Neil Armstrong.

What grade would you give to Superintendent Jack Musser?

Hampton: Based on the growth, strategic planning, excellence and outreach I see in the district currently, his leadership appears to complement well the strengths of the board members, school administrators, teachers and other leaders in the district.

Howard: Probably a 'B.' Jack is a genuinely likeable guy who appears to really want what is best for the district. He just needs to make sure he doesn't get too complacent and be willing to try new ideas.

Drew: I would only grade him during executive session.

Where did you get your K-12 education?

Hampton: I started in the Forest Grove School District in eighth grade. Previous to that I attended K-12 schools in Missouri and Ohio.

Howard: Anderson Village School in Anderson, Alaska, and Monroe High School in Fairbanks, Alaska. Monroe is a Catholic school which I attended not because I am Catholic, but because it was the only private school in Fairbanks.

Drew: I had my schooling in Burns and Sweet Home, Ore.

How were you as a student? Upper 10 percent? Lower 25 percent? In between?

Howard: Upper 10 percent (National Merit Scholarship finalist).

Drew: I was an average student.

Alisa Hampton

Why do you want to be a school board member? I am very interested in the health and impact of our schools on the children and on the community.

Have you worked on any school committees or participated in any school activities recently? Tom McCall Local School Committee, 2007-09; Dilley Auction Committee, 2008; Dilley Fund Run Coordinator, 2007 and 2008; Dilley classroom volunteer since 2001.

What do you see as the basic purpose of the public schools? The primary role of public schools is, in partnership with parents, to enable and support the development and growth of local children by providing knowledge, structure, opportunities, social and support systems and a safe environment.

What could be done to improve district communications? I would love to see more active 'marketing' to and proactive engagement with all the different community populations.

Elliot Howard

Why do you want to be a school board member? I feel the board has not been completely responsive to students and parents' concerns in the past, and I want to see more openness and cordiality in the process.

Have you worked on any school committees or participated in any school activities recently? No. My daughter only started attending school in Forest Grove this year.

What do you see as the basic purpose of the pubic schools? To prepare students to be productive members of society. This includes education, socialization, job readiness, learning good citizenship and appreciating our society's shared values.

What could be done to improve district communications? Have parent volunteers ride the bus to monitor students. Send more information home with students. Point students and parents to the district's web pages and provide an online forum for discussing concerns.

Herb Drew

Why do you want to be a school board member? I believe that I can provide input from the community ... along with knowledge obtained over the past 43 years that I owned a local insurance and investment business.

Have you worked on any school committees or participated in any school activities recently? I worked with all school district employees as the personnel insurance agent of record between 1971 and 2006. I chaired local school budget committees and the promotion committee for the passage of bond issues for Neil Armstrong and the new high school.

What do you see as the basic purpose of the public schools? Provide a high quality learning environment through a disciplined and structured plan of education.

What could be done to improve district communications? The message of the schools needs to be communicated on an ongoing basis through formal meetings and individual relationships.