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Meet Medford's School Board candidates

The Mail Tribune sent a candidate questionnaire to each of the people running for seats on the Medford School Board. The questions are intended to help voters in the May 21 election get a better sense of the candidates’ values, strengths and vision. These are their responses, edited only for clarity:

Position 4

Karen Starchvick

Occupation: Secretary/treasurer, Starchvick Optical DBA Advanced Vision Wellness Center

Age: 60

Do you have any children currently in Medford schools?

No. My son and daughter graduated from MSD, and are now in college.

What sets you apart from other candidates running for the same position?

Experience. My background in finance and education advocacy has proven invaluable toward my becoming a proactive and productive board member. I served on school site council, PTO, Booster clubs, District Budget Committee and Achievement Committee before being elected. As a board member, I was elected by my fellow members to serve as Vice Chair and Chair for 3 years of my term. As a result of my advocacy work with Stand for Children, I understand the challenges and deficiencies with education funding in Oregon.

Which current Medford School Board goal do you see yourself bringing the most strengths or dedication to, and why?

Goal number 2: Equity for All. This was the impetus for my advocacy work, and my run 4 years ago for school board. After my appointment, I urged my fellow members to add Equity to goal number 2, and that remains a primary focus for me. Education can be the great equalizer, but only if all students receive the supports and opportunities necessary for success. I consistently champion wrap-around support programs like Maslow for increased investment, and will continue to do so. MSD has made critical progress the last four years with respect to Hispanic students and English Language Learners, and students experiencing poverty or disability. But significant challenges remain — critically among African American students. However, since being awarded a Black Student Success grant last year, I believe we will make progress in this arena with the increased resources.

Among the general student population, MSD has enjoyed a 16% increase in freshmen on track to graduate. But we must have more career technical programming at the high schools for the 50% of MSD students who do not enroll in college. The Student Success Act will invest $2 billion into Oregon schools, (after decades of disinvestment) and is essential for the District to effectively target interventions for our most challenged student populations, which is why I’m strongly advocating its passage.

What, in your opinion, is the most important deficiency on the Medford School Board and how would you work to remedy it?

The majority of members have been on the board two years or less, contributing to a lack of institutional memory. Board turnover is inevitable. As board chair, I brought training opportunities to the board, including a grant through the Chalkboard Institute for Board Governance and Equity Training, plus additional training through the Oregon School Boards Association. I would like to see a formal process for on-boarding new members, which has previously been absent. Formalizing a board oversight policy for the entire board to annually review critical district programs like finance, food services and transportation would also increase board member knowledge of district operations and should be implemented. Currently these reviews happen in committee, with one or two members present, or on an as-needed basis, such as when a contract is going out to bid.

What, in your opinion, are two or three primary responsibilities a school board member has to the public?

First and foremost, the board hires (or fires) the superintendent. The board governs through the establishment of policies and procedures; the superintendent manages. It is not our job to interfere with the day-to-day operations of the district. The board sets goals for the district, and through data and metrics, we continuously monitor the progress made toward those goals. It is also our responsibility to be ambassador advocates for the district, and for education in Oregon.

Elected school boards are unique in that they are not chosen by their true constituents, the children. Boards must always place what is best for students at the core of every decision.

Kevin Husted

Did not respond to the questionnaire. Husted announced he would no longer campaign in April.

Position 5

Tod Hunt

Occupation: Real estate broker / owner

Age: Declined to answer

Do you have any children currently in Medford schools?

Two at South Medford HS

What sets you apart from other candidates running for the same position?

Experience. With any new position, there is a learning curve. I’ve invested the last 8-plus months meeting with every school principal (and several teachers as well) at every school, including charter schools, to ask about the positives, challenges and opportunities they see to raise the bar on curriculum, attendance and behavior issues. I’ve also met and discussed similar issues with the many community care organizations in the valley that support school efforts to achieve student success. From these encounters I’ve recognized the needs for more teacher support, more parent involvement and more student accountability.

The world we live in today is so different from the world of just a generation ago. With the only constant in life being change, we must do our best to adapt. Parents should take the lion’s share of responsibility for preparing their children for the expected form, function and regimen of the school environment. Early socialization is essential for proper student success as well as setting expectations of behavior, discipline and cooperation.

However, with an increase in dysfunctional family home environments in our community, where such requisite skills are seldom if ever demonstrated, we are in crisis. It is from many of these families that the school has been asked to shoulder these duties. Of course, we cannot abandon any child in need. So, if by default it is the responsibility of the school system to pick up the slack, then the schools must be given the necessary tools, resources and staff to ensure that each child is given the opportunity to succeed. In an ideal world, parents would all do their part to prepare students for the rigors of school so that teachers could focus on what they do best — educate, inspire and empower every citizen youth to achieve to their full potential.

Which current Medford School Board goal do you see yourself bringing the most strengths or dedication to, and why?

Early literacy. The three most important issues facing elementary school students and their teachers, in my opinion, include student behavior, attendance and early literacy. The early literacy component has the greatest long-term impact on the trajectory of student success as it lays the foundation for all subsequent lifelong learning.

Whether attributed to family crisis issues in the home, English language learners or just lack of literacy being modeled in the home by indifferent, illiterate or preoccupied parents, the science behind early literacy success cannot be denied. Students should be competently engaged in reading by third grade if not before. I think that if we truly believe that literacy is of the utmost importance that we should spend the bulk of student class time in K-3 reading — whether the teacher to students, students to class, students to a partner or alone or a combination of all. Of course, a rich inclusion of letter recognition, vocabulary and phonics are all key as well.

My eldest daughter came to America from Russia at age 6 in April 1996 not knowing a word of English. She started first grade in September of that year and within 6 months was virtually fluent in English. Why? It is my belief that it was due to the fact that she was already fluent in reading, writing and speaking in her native language. Of course, her mother was also instrumental in taking the time to teach her in Russian from an early age. Early literacy grows subsequent literacy exponentially, and literacy in one language brings faster adoption of additional languages learned.

We all know that success only comes before work in the dictionary. So to all parents with children headed to school at age 5 or 6, they have a solemn duty not only to prepare their child socially for going to school, but to get a leg up on the basics of reading (and math). Once started at school, students must also have continuity in their learning path, which requires regular attendance — a factor largely tied again to family dynamics. Early childhood learning (pre-K), if just for 2 hours each day, would fill in much of the learning and socialization gap created by families in need or in crisis and alleviate many of the tensions laid upon teachers in kindergarten and beyond.

What, in your opinion, is the most important deficiency on the Medford School Board and how would you work to remedy it?

No deficiency, just an acknowledgment that the board comes with a diversity of experience, which is a healthy component of any well-run organization. Without it, an organization becomes little more than an echo chamber. Continued diversity of thoughts, ideas and questions that challenge the status quo — that force us to “think outside the box” — will bring forward the best strategies to achieve the goals of the board, the district, the students and our community.

What, in your opinion, are two or three primary responsibilities a school board member has to the public?

1. Reaching out to and listening to the concerns and ideas of our community stakeholders and accurately and fairly representing their needs to our board and district administration.

2. Being purposeful, diligent and transparent in our individual research and collective board deliberations in achieving the board goals as articulated by the needs of the community.

Mindy Folsom

Occupation: Homemaker

Age: 58

Do you have any children currently in Medford schools?

I do not currently have any children attending Medford schools, but I do have four grandchildren in our schools with more on the way.

What sets you apart from other candidates running for the same position?

I like to evaluate multiple sides of issues before making decisions.

I listen more than I speak.

I work well in a group.

Which current Medford School Board goal do you see yourself bringing the most strengths or dedication to, and why?

I would like to help improve communication between the school board and our community.

I hope to help our community better understand the roles and responsibilities of school board members.

I would like to better understand PERS and pass along what I learn to the public.

Our classrooms are bulging at their seams. I would like to explore options to our crowded classrooms.

What, in your opinion, is the most important deficiency on the Medford School Board and how would you work to remedy it?

Under the leadership of Cynthia Wright, the school board chair, I have seen effective corroboration and correlation in implementing programs that are helping students become more competent and progressive.

However, I believe there is room for improvement in how members of the board communicate with the public.

We could use more representation in the area of special education.

What, in your opinion, are two or three primary responsibilities a school board member has to the public?

School board members work with the superintendent to outline vision and goals for the district.

They adopt policies to help achieve those goals.

Hiring and evaluating the superintendent is part of their role.

They oversee and allocate a budget.

They advocate for the education and safety of all children.

Position 6

Glen Gann

Occupation: Journeyman HVAC commercial installer/supervisor, Advanced Air & Metal

Age: 54

Do you have any children currently in Medford schools?

I do not currently have children in Medford schools. I do have two children that went through the Medford School District in prior years.

What sets you apart from other candidates running for the same position?

I was born and raised in the Rogue Valley and am a product of Medford schools. I attended Washington Elementary, McLoughlin Middle School and Medford Mid/Senior High. My children also attended Medford schools.

I have a student and a parent’s perspective of the Medford School District. I know firsthand the importance of Pathways. Being involved in the music program led by Lyn Sjolund is what kept me interested in school. When I attended, Central was Mid High and North was Senior High. At that time, we had many opportunities to take career and technical education classes. It was then that I learned I liked working with my hands and was fortunate to join the apprenticeship program in HVAC after graduating. I want all kids to find their path and stay in school like I did; exposing them to opportunities and careers that I know are out there.

Which current Medford School Board goal do you see yourself bringing the most strengths or dedication to, and why?

I think board goal 4, graduation, is what I am most dedicated to. The district has done a great job with getting to an 80% graduation rate during the time Superintendent Shumate was here. But it’s going to take a lot more work to get to 90% and beyond. Pathways are a critical part of that. Kids need to see relevance to coming to school.

Equally important is life after graduation. Half of all MSD graduates do not enroll in college. How are we helping these students to be workforce ready? When they moved South to the new location, they eliminated all the career tech classroom spaces. The district has tried to add programs, but there isn’t enough space for student demand. There are high-need, high-wage jobs in the construction industry, jobs like mine. We need to introduce students to these opportunities.

What, in your opinion, is the most important deficiency on the Medford School Board and how would you work to remedy it?

A board member acting on their own has no power; only the board acting together has power. You have to respect the democratic process. The Budget Committee is a great example. The Budget Committee member’s role is to approve whole categories of funding, not advocating for individual line items in the budget, which opens the process up to special interests. Once a majority of the board adopts the budget, it’s not appropriate for a single member to be out in the community arguing against it. Also, my perspective as a longtime resident of this valley and student and parent of Medford schools is unique to the board. I get the importance of career and technical training and access to internships and dual credit while in high school. I was able to benefit from these programs, and I want all kids to be able to do so again. It is great for our students and our community.

What, in your opinion, are two or three primary responsibilities a school board member has to the public?

Board members are responsible for three things: hiring and evaluating the superintendent, setting district policy, and being an advocate for the district in the community and at the state level. The superintendent is responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the district.

Jim Horner

Occupation: Vice president and general manager Hewlett-Packard and Agilent Technologies (retired)

Age: 75

Do you have any children currently in Medford schools?

One granddaughter attends Lewis and Clark College, one attends Gearhart, Oregon grade school, and two attend grade schools in California.

What sets you apart from other candidates running for the same position?

1. I am the incumbent with two years of service. I also served four years on the Budget Committee, and one year on the ad hoc “Save Ruch School” committee. Our new superintendent will be coming on-board, and he/she will need board stability to provide as much knowledge and continuity as possible.

2. I was raised by a family of educators. My father was a teacher and principal at Estacada, and a principal and superintendent at David Douglas. One brother just retired as a full professor (emeritus) of education at U of O. Four cousins were college professors, and four cousins, my mother and other brother were teachers.

3. My 37 years of business experience at HP/Agilent have given me a unique perspective of how to achieve accountability by setting realistic and measurable goals. Further, my experience aids my ability to ask questions that reveal which programs will produce the greatest positive outcome relative to their cost (the biggest bang for the buck), a very important factor in a limited resource environment.

4. Education: My success in high school as valedictorian followed by engineering degrees and business school awards from Stanford give me an educational scaffolding which enhances decision-making.

Which current Medford School Board goal do you see yourself bringing the most strengths or dedication to, and why?

I believe I bring value to all the board goals, but I probably bring the most value to board goal No. 1: Academic Excellence. This goal establishes the desire to bring academic proficiency and MASTERY to all students. I do not represent any specific group or child and as such can look at issues through the lens of what is best for ALL kids. This aids in supporting the rest of the board goals. For example, our board goal No. 3, third-grade reading, is incredibly important as it shows how well we are building reading skills, the foundation of education. It is critical to every kid but particularly to our most challenged kids.

What, in your opinion, is the most important deficiency on the Medford School Board and how would you work to remedy it?

I believe the board is working well, but sometimes is hobbled by well-intentioned but excessive regulation from the state. The political process to remedy these regulations is difficult and takes time.

What, in your opinion, are two or three primary responsibilities a school board member has to the public?

1. Safety: Mothers and fathers entrust their kids to the school district for many hours each day. Although it is impossible to ever guarantee perfect safety, the district must leave no stone unturned to ensure the best student safety as is humanly possible.

2. It’s critically important that board members remember that they work for the public. There is pressure for board members to go along with suggestions from other board members, district administration, work groups, parents, state associations or other advocacy groups. Listening carefully to all these well-meaning folks is important, but in the end the decisions must ultimately pass the test of what is best for the kids and our ultimate boss: the public.

3. Educating all kids to the limits of their ability, from most challenged to most capable, is our fundamental objective. We must constantly work to ensure that the transparent, measurable goals we set are in fact achieving that fundamental objective.

Position 7

Lilia Caballero

Occupation: City of Medford, cultural outreach coordinator, Medford Police Department.

Age: 58

Do you have any children currently in Medford schools?

I have three children who have both attended and graduated from the Medford School District. My youngest child graduated from South Medford High School in 2013.

What sets you apart from other candidates running for the same position?

My experience and skills set me apart.

I look at things through an equity lens. As a person of color, I believe this to be vital in our public education system. In order to provide all students with the best chance of success, you need to be able to make it so that all student voices are included in the decision-making process and results. I have served as a Board of Director for the Medford School Board for four years. I understand the importance of being at the table when decisions are being made.

My work with the Medford Police Department drives my desire to help provide positive opportunities for youth. I want to keep our youth out of our criminal justice system.

Which current Medford School Board goal do you see yourself bringing the most strengths or dedication to, and why?

My skills and experience strengthen the current Medford School Board goal 2, “Equity for All.”

I am a mother who sent my children to public schools through the Medford School District and who also had her children in after-school programs with Kids Unlimited. Now I have grandchildren and some are home-schooled and enrolled in a charter school, and others will follow in the public school system. I value the options that Medford provides so that all students have a chance to excel. “One size fits all” does not work in education. I want to support parents and the different needs their individual child may require in order to provide an effective education.

We have had successes with closing the achievement gap for students of color, students with special needs and students who experience poverty. While there is still more to do in order to eliminate the achievement gap for these students, we are making progress. The district has partnered with Southern Oregon University and we have our students of color on a pathway to higher education. The district has implemented peer and adult mentoring programs for our students with special needs. We have partnered up with the Maslow Project to provide more resources to our homeless students.

What, in your opinion, is the most important deficiency on the Medford School Board and how would you work to remedy it?

We do not look at every policy with an equity lens. We are making progress, but we need to do more. The board has to have an intentional focus on making decisions that take into account all students even those in the minority. The makeup of the district’s staff is not representative of our student population. For instance, 26% of the district’s student population is Latino, approximately 3% of our teaching staff is Latino, and to my knowledge we have zero Latino administrators. We know that students have more success when they have other adults of similar backgrounds working with them in schools.

We also need to hear more from students. The board does not hear much from our youth. The district conducts an annual survey where we ask our students questions about their educational experience. We have three years of data now. The board should use the information received from the student surveys to reevaluate our board goals and make sure they are in line with the priorities of our students.

What, in your opinion, are two or three primary responsibilities a school board member has to the public?

A board member’s responsibilities include: 1) to help provide education success for students by making informed decisions, 2) to help provide fiscal accountability for taxpayer dollars in our education district, and 3) to manage the Superintendent. One board member cannot do this alone. Each board member has one vote. It takes 4 votes to make board related decisions for our district. It is extremely important to work with my colleagues on the board to make decisions together.

Ruth Moncus

Occupation: Real estate agent

Age: 48

Do you have any children currently in Medford schools?

Yes. I have a son who is a senior through a Scholars program at Logos Public Charter School. This program gave my son an opportunity to attend RCC full-time while in 11th and 12th grades, maintaining a 3.5 GPA. He is currently on the path in completing the Manufacturing Engineering module. My eldest son graduated in 2017 from Logos Scholars as well and then received his Associates of Science in 2018. He is currently a social worker in Medford.

What sets you apart from other candidates running for the same position?

As a real estate agent, I have learned to work with all sorts of personalities and come to terms with what people want. I feel that this piece alone will help me in communicating with students, parents and board members alike in expressing equal value to each individual argument while holding my positions. Also, being a parent with two sons that have been through the charter school system, I understand how important this institution is for the successes of other students in the valley. Parents recognize this shared value as well and they need to be finally heard.

Which current Medford School Board goal do you see yourself bringing the most strengths or dedication to, and why?

As I had hinted in the previous question, my goal day one of being elected on the school board would be supporting the relieving of current caps from charter schools that prevent expansion, prohibit school choice, and discourage more opportunity for alternative education for low-income families. There is no such thing as a “one size fits all” equation when it comes to education and this needs to be fixed. Also, being in the real estate business, my second priority would be looking into financial education introductions into the school system; topics such as home-buying, filing taxes and understanding how to budget. These are essentials that students will need to carry throughout their entire lives, and it is about time that we as a school board decide to do something about it.

What, in your opinion, is the most important deficiency on the Medford School Board and how would you work to remedy it?

I believe the Medford School Board needs to be open to healthy debate and be able to ask questions. This demonstrates a robust democracy and is essential for our school district. I would not only bring a presence to ask questions but always take into account other’s perspectives before my own. Biases are the number one reason nothing gets done, unhealthy disagreement ensues, and relationships get burnt. I am sure to bring my experiences and humility to the school board in creating a culture toward open conversations and the ability to have discussions without judgment.

What, in your opinion, are two or three primary responsibilities a school board member has to the public?

One of the most important responsibilities as a board member is to always listen to the concerns of parents and students. It sounds very much of a cliché answer but being able to practice this ideal is something that I do every day in my business. Moreover, transparency naturally will arise and is a must in every respect. And finally, having integrity in everything that you do is a golden rule that I live by. I plan to do just that when elected to the school board.

Curt Ankerberg

Did not respond to the questionnaire.

Jim Horner is a candidate for Position 6 on the Medford School Board.
Lilia Caballero is a candidate for Position 7 on the Medford School Board.