Seven candidates have filed for three seats on the Medford School Board, which has been divided in recent months over the performance of its superintendent. The ballot in the May 21 election will include a former School Board chairman challenging an incumbent who has been critical of the superintendent and a challenge to the current chairman, who has supported the superintendent.

Seven candidates have filed for three seats on the Medford School Board, which has been divided in recent months over the performance of its superintendent. The ballot in the May 21 election will include a former School Board chairman challenging an incumbent who has been critical of the superintendent and a challenge to the current chairman, who has supported the superintendent.

A split School Board in March decided against voting to renew Superintendent Phil Long's contract, likely postponing that decision to a later date. Four members of the board gave Long mostly good marks on their evaluations of his performance, while three gave him lower marks.

With that as a backdrop, recurring themes among the candidates included better communication and improved conflict resolution on the board.

While Long has come in for criticism from some board members over communication, at least one candidate thinks the board has its own failings in that area.

"I think the current board has some real communication problems that have caused a lot of problems," said former board member Larry Nicholson, who served on the board for eight years starting in 2003, including as chairman at one point.

Nicholson will take on incumbent Paulie Brading, along with a second challenger, Nicole (Nikki) Milam, an office secretary with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

"I don't like where the board is going," said Nicholson. "There are too many difficult issues to resolve without effective communication."

Brading, who has been critical of Long's performance, said Friday that her criticism is based on the performance level of the students. She said her goals on the board are to strengthen student performance and overall communication, including communication with the community.

"I think that's my role as a board member ... to look at the status quo and see where we measure up," she said. Brading said she also wants to focus on improving graduation rates and preparing students for the workforce.

School Board Chairman Jeff Thomas, who supported Long in recent discussions, is seeking re-election for Position 2 against Lisa McGowan, is a former administrative assistant and bookkeeper.

"This is an extremely active board," said Thomas, who also said he wants to focus on better communication if re-elected.

Communication issues were among the reasons he ran four years ago, he said, adding that disagreements among board members are not necessarily a bad thing as long as they are handled respectfully.

"I think it's a positive thing that we have more than one person running for these positions," said Thomas. "That's how it's supposed to work."

McGowan said she has long had a desire to get involved in education and wants to focus on special-needs students.

For Position 3, incumbent Tricia Prendergast faces a trio of challengers: Curt Ankerberg, Cheryl Dykes and Matt Gebhardt.

All three seats up for election also will be contested in the Eagle Point School District, which has faced turmoil in the past year with a teacher strike and complaints filed with the state against its superintendent.

Ballots will be mailed out May 3.

Shannon Houston is a Southern Oregon University intern. Reach her at shouston@mailtribune.com.