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Ashland School Board races

The Mail Tribune sent a candidate questionnaire to the six people, including one incumbent, running for seats on the Ashland 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

Jill Franko

Occupation: Volunteer ASD Bond Oversight Committee, Volunteer ASD Budget Committee, Wellness Writer

Age: 46

How long have you lived in the Ashland School District? 5 years, but I grew up in Yreka.

Do you have any children currently attending Ashland schools, or children who have graduated from the district? I have two boys that attend Ashland schools; one is in kindergarten, the other is in third grade.

Why do you want to be on the school board?

I want to serve the children of this community. My expertise is in creating environments where everyone thrives. We have BIPOC students who feel unwelcome. We have students who need social-emotional support. And a majority of our students have struggled to flourish during COVID-19. We need to rebuild our school environments to re-engage our students, reconnect them to each other and their community, and provide a space where all students can thrive. Sir Ken Robinson said, “We have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process — it’s an organic process. And you cannot predict the outcome of human development. All you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish.” My expertise in student experience, district culture, student/teacher engagement and finance gives me the proper foundation to offer my skills and expertise to serve our students, our parents, our teachers and the district.

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

I understand the importance of human relationships in getting goals accomplished. Our school district is in the middle of facilitating a $130,000,000-plus facilities bond, and I serve on the bond oversight committee. In addition, we have an annual $37,000,000 district budget, and I currently serve as the committee chair. We have a declining budget for the foreseeable future as we struggle with declining enrollment. We have to start working collectively with our city entities, our businesses, and our BIPOC community leaders so we can provide more affordable housing and jobs to attract diverse families to Ashland. All this requires tremendous collaboration to realize a vision of community that is diverse in age, gender, race and identity. But it also requires financial literacy, attention to detail, and an openness to learn about the various systems within our education system. Our schools do not operate in a silo. I have the communication skills to bring people together, combined with the financial skills to oversee taxpayer funds.

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

We need to bring back our students who have disengaged from the school system. What an intense year for all our families in Ashland. Are we focusing enough time, attention and care into bringing humanity and heart into our schools? We cannot just be a district with catchy slogans and savvy plans. We have to be a district where our students, teachers, administrators and board reflect our values, not just our policies. It means we can’t just say, “All Students Belong.” We need to hear from our students that their experience is of belonging and that they matter. That takes dedication as a district with support systems but also with finances. Yes, we need rigor and excellence and high achievement, but we also need to attend to our children's social-emotional needs in a time when they need it most. That requires a board that engages on all levels, and I understand how to make that happen.

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

My job is to act as a steward of close to $200,000,000 in taxpayer funds the school board oversees to make sure we are spending in alignment with our strategic plan, goals and values. Second, it is to stay grounded and avoid letting my own experience take the place of other’s experiences, to actively listen, and to respond with action. Third, it is to ensure that we are creating an environment for our students and teachers that allows the whole person to grow to their full potential. This means giving our teachers autonomy, but also leading our district when making hard decisions are necessary. It means including a curriculum that is not only historically accurate and culturally relevant, but it also means we don’t limit our curriculum to what we test on. We also need to understand the influence art, physical education, emotional intelligence, creative thinking, activism, social change, and climate change play in a student’s success as a human.

Natalie Jackson: Did not respond

Position 3

Eva Skuratowicz

Occupation: Director of the Southern Oregon University Research Center

Age: 56

How long have you lived in the Ashland School District? 17 years

Do you have any children currently attending Ashland schools, or children who have graduated from the district? One child attends Ashland High School. One child graduated from AHS in 2018.

Why do you want to be on the school board?

I am running to serve kids. I am determined that every single child in the Ashland School District receives a rigorous and excellent education, and that every child feels safe, valued and welcomed at school. At a critical time like this, my qualifications and long-term experience on the school board truly matter. There are so many challenges facing the school district right now, including the repercussions of students not being in the classroom for a year, reduced state funding, and declining enrollment. In addition, each month the school board is making decisions on a $110 million school bond that will impact every student for decades to come. I am the only candidate who has in-depth board experience and understands the complexity of these issues. I have a proven track record of leadership in fiscal responsibility, EDI (equity, diversity and inclusion), curriculum, bargaining and labor relations, and governance and oversight.

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

There are three strategic goals for our school district: improve student achievement; increase the recruitment and retention of high quality and culturally diverse staff; and create and maintain a safe, welcoming and supportive learning environment. These three goals are intertwined. For example, I believe that we will see broad and lasting student achievement across all groups when every student feels welcome and our staff mirrors the diversity of our student population. So, I co-wrote the first school district equity, diversity and inclusion policy, and I am looking closely at how the district hires staff. An important factor in furthering our goals is maintaining the academic excellence that has resulted in national recognition for the Ashland School District. My decisions as a school board member will continue to build upon and enhance that excellence.

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

For the school district, we’ve had a communication barrier that I have been working to solve. As a result, the district now sends home regular communication from the superintendent, in both Spanish and English. On the school board level, due to COVID, we have not had typical informal, in-person feedback. We receive lots of emails from parents, community and staff, which are so important. However, community forums are not the same on Zoom; we don’t have informal conversations with teachers at school; and parent conversations in the store, at sports games, or during music concerts no longer occur. I don’t want to wait until COVID restrictions are removed. Now that we have moved to in-person schooling, I will be setting up online and outdoor listening sessions with parents, staff and community members. It is important for the school board to remain actively engaged even during COVID restrictions.

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

Our number one responsibility is to do what’s right for Ashland’s kids, first and foremost. I’m not running for re-election to serve special interest groups. I am here to serve our students. Secondly, we need to serve kids in a manner that is fiscally responsible, both in the short and long term. We are entrusted with our taxpayers’ dollars, and I take this responsibility seriously. I am proud that the Ashland School District provides excellent pay and benefits for our employees and that the school board always approves a balanced budget. I believe that by prioritizing kids first, as well ensuring the equitable and efficient distribution of resources, we will fulfill our responsibility of ensuring that every student receives an excellent education and is set up for success.

Misha Hernandez

Occupation: Oregon Nurse Association representative

Age: 49

How long have you lived in the Ashland School District? 4 years recently

Do you have any children currently attending Ashland schools, or children who have graduated from the district? One child in Ashland High School class of 2023; one child in Helman Elementary, class of 2031.

Why do you want to be on the school board?

I want to be of service to my community while advocating for anti-biased education, transparency and collaboration. I come from a family of educators. My mother was a high school English teacher. I saw firsthand her dedication and sacrifice in helping her students succeed. I want to take her spirit of service with me to the Ashland School District. This past year has been hard, and I have been in awe of how hard the teachers and district have worked to keep education accessible and hope to see a return to campus that is equitable for everyone.

When I returned to Ashland four years ago, with a biracial and bi-cultural family, my eyes were opened to the need for more work in diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion in our community. It is clear Ashland needs more teachers and programs of diversity with a focus on an anti-bias, anti-racist curricula. I see issues of accessibility and ableism within our facilities that must be addressed. There is a need for greater options in educational learning styles, approaches and cultural influences while maintaining low student-teacher ratios. I would like to help facilitate collaboration and communication with the Parks Department, OSF and SOU. I am passionate about labor values and would like to foster strong standards for workers rights and labor relations.

That's why I am excited to be running for Ashland School Board on a slate with Natalie Jackson and Sarah Beata DeLong. The three of us share core values of equity, inclusion and working-family values.

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

I am a working-class mother of two and understand the struggles of juggling work and parenthood. I have experience bargaining contracts with unions. I understand community benefit agreements and the need to collaborate and work collectively. I am dedicated to anti-bias curriculum development and am committed to actively identifying equity and justice issues in your community. I have lobbied for state legislation and would like to take that experience to advocate for better policy and funding for our schools.

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

The criticism I hear the most is the current board lacks transparency and openness to community feedback and addressing needs around accessibility and equity. I see excellent work that has begun addressing anti-bias education, but there is no current curriculum director to implement this work on the ground level. I would like to take that momentum to develop sustainable concrete anti-bias and equitable change in our schools.

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

Hiring and management of the superintendent, policy development, fiscal responsibility and legislative action as well as set the collective goals and vision for the district with fellow board members.

Position 4

Rebecca Dyson

Occupation: Physician

Age: 53

How long have you lived in the Ashland School District? Eight years

Do you have any children currently attending Ashland schools, or children who have graduated from the district? My four children have attended ASD schools since we moved here. I currently have students in 12th, 11th, ninth, and eighth grades.

Why do you want to be on the school board?

I do not have any agenda other than wanting to be part of the conversation of how our schools can best serve our students and community. I have volunteered extensively within the district since moving here. For the past three years I served on the AHS Site Council and the board of Ashland High Arts Advocates. For many years I have provided assistance or mentoring to a variety of athletic, performing arts and academic groups. I have been involved from elementary through high school and have gotten to know many of our district staff and parents. I now have the breadth of experience as well as the time to commit to being an engaged and dedicated member of the school board. My background as a physician will be an asset as we navigate the remainder of the COVID pandemic and its many long-term effects on our schools and students.

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

My core belief is that all children deserve access to high quality public education and a clear path to success. The current ASD Strategic Plan lists four goals: 1. Improve student achievement. 2. Recruit and retain high quality and culturally diverse staff. 3. Cultural diversity of staff will match cultural diversity of students. 4. Create and maintain a safe, welcoming, supportive and inclusive environment for all students and staff. I have a holistic outlook and believe that while academic success is a primary goal, we must also look to the overall student experience in our schools. Making sure that equity is a part of every decision should be a focus of the board. For anyone who wishes to know more about my vision, I discuss some areas I am particularly passionate about on my website at www.dysonchronicles.com.

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

With two members stepping down and the two members holding seats not up for election this cycle both within their first term of service on the board, it is critical that all open seats are filled by candidates who have the skills and expertise to quickly take on the many complex issues the board is currently facing. The school board must assess everything from budget to curriculum to school nutrition to bond proposals, just to name a few. The board should ideally be made up of a wide cross-section of diverse voices and backgrounds, coupled with open minds and a dedication to hard work. While this would be my first term as a board member, my prior experience in our schools as well as my professional background will enable me to rapidly take an active role on the board and the many additional school committees that board members serve.

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

As elected officials, the school board serves our entire community. I believe the primary responsibility is a commitment to the welfare and success of all students within our district, followed closely by supporting the needs of teachers and staff, then families and the community at large. Ashland School District has a history of excellence in both academic achievement and extracurricular activities. We must maintain this in order to attract both highly qualified staff and additional families into our district. This is particularly important given the financial toll of the significant drop in student enrollment during the pandemic. One thing we should focus on moving forward is how to make our school district as well as our community more welcoming to underrepresented minorities. We need to seek input from diversified voices and ensure open communication with all parts of our community in order to find the most equitable solutions.

Sarah Beata DeLong

Occupation: Currently laid off due to the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic I worked as a design assistant in the costume department at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for eight seasons.

Age: 44

How long have you lived in the Ashland School District? Since January of 2012

Do you have any children currently attending Ashland schools, or children who have graduated from the district? I have a third-grader at Walker Elementary and a sixth-grader at Ashland Middle School.

Why do you want to be on the school board?

I want to be on the school board because serving my community is important to me. I am motivated by a desire to help shape a society in which the distribution of resources is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure. For years I have focused my activism around supporting families in Ashland. I was a volunteer manager at the OSF fire relief donation center; I’ve volunteered in the children’s wing of the Ashland library curating a monthly display highlighting and celebrating different themes of identity and justice; I was an administrator for Ashland Family Circle, one of the biggest local parenting support groups on Facebook; I have volunteered in our schools, including serving on the Walker Elementary PTO and Site Council; and I started following the Ashland School Board about four years ago, attending almost every public meeting, listening session, and town hall in the intervening time. Everywhere I go I endeavor to listen, to understand, and to build community around me. I try to filter my every comment, every decision, and every action through a lens of equity, inclusion and access. As a school board director I would remain committed to truly listening to, communicating with, and advocating for all members of the communities I serve.

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

I am so proud of the growth our district has made in the last several years regarding equity and inclusion, thanks in no small part to our current board directors. My vision would be to continue the work of dismantling systemic inequities within the school district and cultivating a culture of belonging and inclusion. I believe that a safe, equitable, inclusive and honest educational experience is the right of every child.

Obviously this is not the kind of goal that can be achieved by just one person. It’s going to take everyone working together. I’m fortunate to be running on a slate alongside Natalie Jackson and Misha Hernandez, who share this vision. Our district also has several leaders who are committed to this work, including our fantastic EDI Director, Andrea Townsend. And there are so many community organizations who have been doing this work for ages. My goal would be to collaborate with all these visionaries and leaders and help create the path forward together.

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

I am not interested in running a negative campaign. Everyone who serves on the board puts their hearts into the work they do. I am interested in continuing to ask ourselves how we can do better. Who are we leaving out? How can we better serve them? One way to do this is to improve two-way communication between the board and the community. I think there are very simple systems we can put in place that will allow the public to be able to follow the work of the board more easily. This allows the community to have more trust in what the board is doing and opens the lines of communication from the community back to the board.

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

As public servants, the primary responsibilities of the school board are accountability and transparency. School board directors are responsible for ensuring that everyone in the district — students, teachers, families, and staff — gets the resources they need to succeed in our schools.

If you’ve seen any of my campaign materials, you’ve probably noticed that I use the phrase “anti-bias education.” Anti-bias education means respecting and embracing differences and actively working to counteract bias and unfairness. It works as an underpinning perspective which permeates everything that happens in the school district — from policies set forth by the board, budgetary decisions, interactions with children and their families, behavioral standards, disciplinary policies, school dress codes, classroom curriculum, and more. That would be the overarching perspective I would bring to service on the Ashland School Board and the most important way to meet my responsibility to the community.