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Medford school board candidates discuss the issues

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The Mail Tribune sent a candidate questionnaire to the six people, including three incumbents, running for seats on the Medford School Board.

The questions are intended to help voters in the May 18 election get a better sense of the candidates' values, strengths and vision. These are their responses, edited for clarity:

Position 1

Jeffrey Kinsella

Jeffrey P. Kinsella

Occupation: Retired

Age: 71

How long have you lived in the Medford School District: 26 years

Do you have any children currently attending Medford schools, or children who have graduated from the district? If so, please list their current grade(s) or graduation years(s): I have two sons that graduated from North High School. One in 2001 and the other in 2007.

Why do you want to be on the school board?

I retired in 2016 after teaching for 29 years and I was not finished being involved with the education of our children. I was elected to the Medford School Board in 2017 and spent the first two years learning the ropes and finding my voice on the board. I have four years of experience, and I want to continue serving the community and doing what is best for our students. During my time on the board we hired an amazing superintendent, one who has positively changed the culture of our district and has provided strong leadership throughout the pandemic. We were the first Board in the state to pass a resolution for getting our kids back into classrooms. Our Board wrote letters to the governor seeking to allow more extra-curricular activities, and to allow a distancing of three feet in the classrooms. Our District is viewed as being progressive and leading the way. There is still more work to be done and I have the experience to help the district continue moving forward.

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

I see myself working for the continued expansion of the Career and Technical Education programs offered at both high schools. Not every graduate will continue on to college, in fact 50% will not attend college. It is up to the district to provide a pathway for these students that will lead them into a highly skilled job. A generation of skilled workers will soon be leaving the job force and opening up many job opportunities for skilled workers. We need to provide choices that will keep the students interested and wanting to attend school. Students who take at least one CTE class have a higher graduation rate. Our graduation rate is improving and I believe with more students in a CTE pathway it will improve considerably. It worked for me when I was in high school.

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

This is a tough question since I don’t see an obvious deficiency, only areas that we could improve. I think there is a general misunderstanding by the public about the actual power we possess as a board member. It took some learning time for each board member to understand what their role was and what they could accomplish. We now have an experienced and diverse board and we are able to reach a consensus through vigorous discussions. The bottom line is deciding, “What is best for kids?” I will continue to build relationships with our community members and help them understand what is in our power to change. It takes a quorum of the seven of us to implement any action. I would like for the board to reach a point where they could speak with a more unified voice when speaking to the public. I want to be a part of that change.

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

As an elected official it is my responsibility to represent my community, engage with them respectfully, and make decisions that will provide a quality education for their child/children.

That begins with hiring a Superintendent whom we think will provide experienced and stellar leadership. A person whose decisions are based on what is best for our students and builds a thriving culture in which every employee in the district is student centered and building relationships. We also evaluate the Superintendent with respect to their job performance.

The board develops and approves policies, approves a fiscally responsible budget, and approves curriculum that has been piloted in district classrooms. We developed an equity lens matrix that is used in our decision-making process.

We have measurable Board Goals that help ensure that our students are achieving to the best of their ability. It is important to set the bar high and strive to meet those goals as a district and individually. I had high expectations for every student I taught and often they surprised themselves. The harder they worked, the smarter they got. The words, “I can’t” were not spoken.

Robin Lee

Robin Lee

Occupation: Retired

Age: 75

How long have you lived in the Medford School District? 33 years

Do you have any children currently attending Medford schools, or children who have graduated from the district? If so, please list their current grade(s) or graduation year(s): No.

Why do you want to be on the school board?

I am, and my friends and neighbors are, concerned with the stresses our children and families have been through due to COVID-19 closures and lockdowns. As a retiree with a varied professional background, I believe I can be of service in many ways.

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

I’m particularly concerned that Board Goal No. 3, reading at grade level by the end of third grade, is not being met by a shocking and saddening number of third-graders. I will focus my energies on this goal, but I won’t exclude giving all the effort I can to the others.

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

Accepting the status quo. Our school board members are ALL good, conscientious people. Like all school boards, they are in the difficult position of being community members monitoring, supervising, and directing an education professional — the superintendent. We are so fortunate to have a strong, excellent superintendent. But a vote for my opponent—a retired teacher and lifelong member of the education "club"—means supporting the status quo, where we are simply failing to teach our kids to read. Math results in our district are even worse. Graduation rates are terrible. The school board must insist on better results from our professionals.

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

School board members represent the community. They are the eyes, ears, and will of the community. They must inform the community of the district's educational goals, and report to the community how well the district is meeting those goals. When policies or directives come to the district from the state, they need to inform the community of these changes and what the likely implications might be. Recently there was talk from the state of adopting math curriculum in which getting the correct answer isn't necessary. That it is, in fact, "white supremacist". I think the community deserves to be informed of things like this.

Suzanne Messer

Position 2

Suzanne P. Messer

Occupation: Senior Inventory Project Manager, Erickson, Inc.

Age: 52

How long have you lived in the Medford School District? 42 years

Do you have any children currently attending Medford schools, or children who have graduated from the district? If so, please list their current grade(s) or graduation year(s): We have four children – Graduate 2015, Graduate 2018, a current High School senior and an eighth-grader.

Why do you want to be on the school board?

Four years ago, I was elected to our School board and have learned so much! I felt the first two years were spent learning how our school systems really operate - budgets, students, facilities, buses, food programs, curriculum, unions, and understanding how our policy decisions effect every home. I am very passionate about educating our students to the best of their abilities. Knowing each student by name, strength and need is invaluable at assisting our students with their abilities to graduate high school prepared for their future. With the pandemic, we were the first board in the state to submit a resolution getting our students back into school, moving from hybrid to full time (6 feet to 3 feet) and pushing for athletics/extracurricular activities. We were also able to bridge the communication gap with students by providing Chromebooks for every student with connectivity provided as necessary.

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

Graduation rates – with the increased funding available through Measure 98 we have really enhanced our Career and Technical Education opportunities to students. We have added or enhanced our nursing program, plumbing, electrical, wood working, robotics, engineering, welding, manufacturing, automotive technology and arts, to name a few. Our alternative Central High School has added some very innovative programs to assist our students who have various influences that have slowed their progress. Their graduation rates jumped from 30% to 49% between 2018 and 2020! Utilizing our Pathways program our students have a multitude of options to select the education model most suited to the needs of their future, which really resonates through engagement and proven success. Our high schools also have a partnership with Southern Oregon University and Rogue Community College for advanced placement credits and our students can earn their associate degree while attending high school if they choose.

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

Communicating with public the role a school board member has within our district. One role is to ensure we are responsive to our communities’ priorities. By creating our Facilities Optimization Committee with local representatives (parents, staff and community members) we were able to use their input to determine top district priorities including building optimization, which led us to starting the process of modifying Central into a third Middle School to meet our upcoming student needs. Before I was elected, I did not understand what this role really entailed. There are many misconceptions as to what we can and cannot do. We are a group of seven with one voice. Our power only comes when we have a quorum to discuss business. There are also many legislative mandates that we must follow. To help remedy this, I will continue to discuss with people I meet and through social media.

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

We must hire and evaluate our superintendent – he is our only employee. By choosing wisely we were able to select someone who is leading our district with a complete student-centered approach. With every decision and conversation, the question is asked, “is this good for students?”

We must develop and adopt policies, budget, and curriculum that is in line with our community culture. This is the “how” we direct the district toward our board goals. We must be fiscally responsible, utilize an equity lens and be open to different opinions while also being respectful.

Lastly, our board goals. We carry a large responsibility to keep our schools making forward progress toward our goal achievement expectations. We set the bar high but achievable. Our objective is “We expect all MSD students graduate with the skills, knowledge, curiosity and drive to succeed in a job, trade school, college or university.”

Benjamin Buchta

Benjamin Buchta

Did not respond.

Position 3

Cynthia Wright

Cynthia Wright

Occupation: Homemaker and volunteer (Children’s Advocacy Center, School Board)

Age: 57

How long have you lived in the Medford School District? I have lived in the Medford School District for about 40 years. I graduated from the Senior High School here.

Do you have any children currently attending Medford schools, or children who have graduated from the district? If so, please list their current grade(s) or graduation year(s): I have six children who attended the Medford School District K-12. They graduated in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2013.

Why do you want to be on the school board?

I want to serve on the board again because I believe strongly in the need to advocate for children and youth. We have a superintendent who is committed to putting kids first and I want to continue supporting that effort as well as listening to and supporting our families. I believe the future is bright - we are striving to improve the way we educate students and prepare them for life after graduation and I want to help keep that momentum moving forward.

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

As a board we created some post pandemic priorities in addition to our long-term goals. Given the restrictions of the last year, I feel most strongly that we need to “Identify the academic, social and emotional needs of every student and develop a plan to help meet those needs.” I brought this priority to the board because the first step has to be knowing where each student is at now and what their individual needs are. Once the teacher knows the student’s needs we can get to work on a plan to meet those needs. Only then can we work toward our long-term goals. It was my passion and advocacy that initiated our board resolution to bring kids back to school. It was my initiative to create these post-pandemic priorities. I have used my position to advocate for kids and I will continue to do so.

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

I guess one deficiency is that we usually only hear from the community members who have the loudest voices and are willing to speak up. I would like to find a way to give voice to those who do not have the confidence to share their concerns and realities with the board. We would be able to make better decisions if we did.

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

The most important responsibilities of the school board to the public are to hire a great superintendent, ensure that tax dollars are spent wisely and make policy decisions that ensure the best learning environment for all students.

Adam McGrew

Adam McGrew

Occupation: Principal Real Estate Broker

Age: 42

How long have you lived in the Medford School District? Approximately eight years now.

Do you have any children currently attending Medford schools, or children who have graduated from the district? If so, please list their current grade(s) or graduation year(s): I currently have three children in the MSD: 11-year-old son in fourth grade at Griffin Creek Elementary, 13-year-old daughter in seventh grade at Hedrick Middle School and a 16-year-old son in 10th-grade at North Medford High.

Why do you want to be on the school board?

Two things: 1. I feel like our entire education system is under fire from far-left indoctrination and knew that I could not just stand on the sideline and complain. So, I got involved with the mindset that I can in fact make a difference and fight for our cherished and hard-fought traditions along with blocking bad curriculum that is not in our kids’ best interest. 2. I get to see firsthand in my career what the education system is producing when it comes to a lot of young first-time home buyers and the basic knowledge that so many of them lack or fail to understand. Fortunately, I absolutely love my career and love to help people. However, students would greatly benefit from a more robust program that teaches more about how to wield real world financial tools.

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

Bringing solution-based approaches to get our kids back in school full-time along with getting sports and extracurricular activities back in full swing. I feel this is so important because I have watched all three of my school-age kids go into depression with little I could do to bridge it. I truly felt like I was along in this until I started reaching out, then I found out that in-fact my situation was not unique at all. Then I really started to get concerned and again the calling to action once again came upon me.

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

The ability to effectively communicate and negotiate with the state education board that funds (controls) our local schools. I am both a great communicator and negotiator and both are major components of my career, and I’ll use my knowledge to bridge the gap.

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

In my opinion, here are my three primary responsibilities: 1. Listen to the parents and teachers and seek to understand their needs. 2. Once understood, I would use my God-given talents to implement good curriculum that will create a roadmap to put our children on a successful path to whatever career choice they choose. 3. To be open and transparent with all parents and teachers about how and why we came to every decision we make, especially since every decision the board make will directly affect me as a parent for many years to come.

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.