The race for Hockinson School District’s Board of Directors seat for District 1 has a variety of candidates ranging from a financially-minded executive to a lawyer who is pushing back against state-mandated curriculum.
Incumbent seatholder Tim Hawkins faces Teresa VanNatta and Bill Eiling in the August primary election. The race is the only one in the district to go to a primary, as only one candidate, incumbent Patrick Carter, is running to maintain the District 2 seat.
Hawkins, the executive director of creative arts at Summit View Church, was appointed to the District 1 seat in September. He’s held a number of leadership positions in companies ranging from Coca-Cola to Rayovac, according to his voter’s guide biography. He has lived in Clark County for 17 years after living in a number of places across the country. He raised three children who graduated from the school district.
Hawkins said the district’s budget is the preeminent issue for the school board. The district experienced a significant drop in enrollment in the past year, he noted, which brings financial impacts based on state-allocated funding.
“Given the year that we just went through, I think it’s even become more critical that we are very tuned into the solvency of our school district,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins said much of public comment during board meetings involved the return to full in-person instruction following the pandemic’s remote and hybrid learning models. He also noted other hot-button topics, such as state mandates on what is required to be taught, including comprehensive sexual health education.
“We don’t have a choice whether or not we’re teaching sex ed,” Hawkins said. “What we do have choices over is how it’s taught and what’s included.”
Hawkins said the district is currently going through a process to choose the materials for its curriculum, as a team of school leaders and members of the public comes up with a recommendation. The open discussions about the procedure have led to a good deal of public participation.
“We’re getting a lot of public comment, more than we’ve ever had,” Hawkins said.
Another controversial item, critical race theory, “is really not on the table right now for us as a school board,” Hawkins said, acknowledging there has been public comment regarding the topic.
Ultimately, Hawkins said the board’s focus should be on broader policy rather than delving into specifics.
“The board doesn’t determine what curriculum is being taught … we’re not involved with the day-to-day operations. We help set policy and we manage the superintendent,” Hawkins said, adding the policy decisions carry financial responsibilities.
Hawkins said keeping the community involved would be integral to running a successful district.
“Communication and transparency with our parents, with our teachers, and with our students is really important. In a small district like ours it’s even more critical that we are good communicators,” Hawkins said.
He said through his experience in various leadership positions he learned how to “not only listen, but (to) turn that into action and help get that done.”
Like Hawkins, VanNatta, an elementary school teacher in the Evergreen School District and co-owner of Hockinson Market, also had three children who graduated from the district.
An educator for more than two decades, including some time as a substitute teacher in the district, VanNatta said the district did well in adapting to the changes of the pandemic.
“Now it’s time for recovery and getting things back to normal,” VanNatta said, adding she could be an asset to the board given her own experiences teaching through the past year and a half.
VanNatta agreed that balancing the district budget is a priority, as is maintaining community trust.
“There’s a lot of things that are concerning our community,” VanNatta said.
She said the education landscape is rapidly changing with new state mandates and technology, so having someone with firsthand experience of teaching on the board would be a boon to the district.
VanNatta added her experience with Hockinson Market also adds a financial piece to her repertoire.
“My husband (Jim) and I over the years have had to make some hard decisions with our limited budget to keep a thriving business,” VanNatta said. “It’s not the same experience, but it’s knowing how to make tough decisions and how to make the right decisions for the future.”
Eiling, a lawyer of 40 years for small municipal districts and governments, said he was spurred to run based on an increasing number of state mandates which he said often have little to do with basic academic skills.
“My expectation is that public schools exist to teach children how to think, not what to think,” Eiling wrote in a response to The Reflector.
He wishes the board was more involved in choosing curriculum. He said he would add materials “that challenge the theories underlying the state-mandated curriculum” for older students.
Eiling said he would be in support of making lesson plans and other learning materials available to the public online, as part of a push for transparency.
“I know ‘transparency’ is a buzz-word, but this is what I mean: I think taxpayers, voters and parents have a right to know what is being taught in the schools they pay for,” Eiling wrote.
Eiling also addressed declining enrollment and its funding impacts on the district, saying he suspected much of it is a result of a “lack of confidence” in the district. Apart from student-side impacts, he mentioned the potential effects of state mandates on the teachers themselves.
“I am sure that many teachers support the programs or philosophy of the state mandated programs,” Eiling wrote. “I am also sure there are many (even those who may agree with the underlying premise) who think these programs do not begin to solve the perceived problems and these teachers remain silent out of fear.”
Acknowledging he felt the current board, including the incumbent, “kept the wheels on” during the pandemic, he felt they should be more forceful on curriculum, mentioning critical race theory specifically. He reiterated counterpoints to the theory should be taught if the concept is brought into the curriculum.
“Teaching a singular ideology is antithetical to creating independent thinkers,” Eiling wrote. “For example, not allowing criticism of critical race theory due to hostility or a lack of time is a non-starter.”
The deadline to submit ballots for primary races is 8 p.m. Aug. 3.
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