We like all three candidates for Position 2 on the Forest Grove School Board, but after hearing them speak on various issues we favor the incumbent, Charless Waterman.
Waterman's background is in business, where she has
done everything from working the cash register at a Food 4 Less to starting her own business. Her children have gone through Forest Grove schools, including a daughter who will graduate this year.
Waterman herself has learned a lot by volunteering in the classroom. We like how she started out hating late-start Wednesdays because they were so inconvenient to her as a working parent, but changed her mind after stepping into the classroom and learning why teachers value that extra time in the morning.
Like all the other candidates, Waterman supports Outdoor School but says funding it would require getting rid of teachers, which she won't do, although she hopes education funding will increase and is doing her part to help — writing and calling legislators and telling everyone she knows to do the same.
She seems to understand the value of "career and technical" classes such as welding and would like to look into possible partnerships in these areas between students and local businesses.
We also like Waterman's parent-engagement efforts through community outreach meetings, the District Leadership Academy and District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC), although we found it interesting that one of her challengers, Valyrie Ingram, knew nothing about DPAC. "Why am I not getting flyers?" Ingram said.
As a candidate, Ingram could have perhaps brushed up more on the various committees offered through the district. But as a busy mother of twin daughters now going through the school system, Ingram makes a good point that if she didn't know about DPAC, Waterman and others probably need to work more on publicity.
Ingram herself is a Forest Grove High School graduate who previously worked at Neil Armstrong Middle School as a special education instructional assistant and is now substitute-teaching in the district.
Like Waterman, she strongly values elective classes in cooking, mechanics, metals and the arts, saying those are crucial to getting reluctant students to stay in school for that one class they love. When she substitute-taught a woods class, it struck her that the students were so absorbed in their work, they "didn't have their phones out."
Another of Ingram's top priorities is bringing Outdoor School back. "My kids are lucky," she said, referring to family camping trips — and how important it is to help children connect with nature.
Her third priority is smaller class sizes and at a candidate forum in Gales Creek, she suggested that if a new school is needed, "it seems cheaper to reopen the one they have rather than open a new one," referring to the continual debate about the closure of Gales Creek Elementary School, which now serves special ed students.
Fallon Harris is a Pacific University graduate who started EdenAcres, a nonprofit environmental learning community.
We like Harris's emphasis on experiential, hands-on learning and her example of how the farm school where she teaches helped transform a city kid who started out terrified of mud.
We also like her understanding of how pre-kindergarten classes for children aged 3 to 5 can improve academic performance, especially in small-class settings of 20 students or less. She sees that as part of the answer to improving graduation rates.
Harris also made a good case for seeing homelessness as a systemic problem and clearly described some of the different factors that perpetuate it.
And we like her involvement in other educational endeavors, such as the Leadership By Design class she teaches at the district's Community Alternative Learning Center.
But we think Harris should rethink the importance of gender-neutral bathrooms (she was the only candidate who opposed them).
We also think both Harris and Ingram should study the district budget and attend more school board meetings. (Ingram has attended "one or two" and Harris none.) Both candidates clearly have enough energy, passion and good ideas for the job. Now all they need is a little more experience.
Meanwhile, Waterman provides the whole package, including an understanding of complexity that can only be gained through experience. She's also sharp, thoughtful and dedicated to the cause. We urge voters to choose Charless Waterman.