Three Seeking Spokane School Board Seat School-Bus Driver, Grief Counselor, Ex-Teacher Compete For Position 1
One Spokane School Board candidate quit the race to finish law school. Another says he’s on the ballot by mistake.
But three people still are competing for the seat - and a voice in decisions that will take Eastern Washington’s largest school district into the next century:
A school-bus driver whose firsthand look at student conduct has left him calling for stronger discipline.
A grandmother who thinks education reform is leading kids away from the academics that create top students.
A Native American grief counselor who says he can lure more parents to school board meetings - especially minority parents.
The three are competing for a Position 1 vacancy created in School District 81 when board President Nancy Fike decided against running for a second six-year term.
Assistant City Attorney Rocco Treppiedi automatically will retain his Position 2 seat because no one filed to run against him.
George Sjursen, 24, quit the Position 1 race shortly after filing to devote more time to his final year at Gonzaga University Law School. “I’ll be back,” he said.
Voters also will see David Robertson’s name on the ballot - even though the 31-year-old produce clerk says he filed by mistake. Robertson said he wanted to run for City Council and thought he was applying for more information when he signed up for the school board race.
“I don’t give a damn,” Robertson said when asked about education issues. “I’d work to dismantle the education system as it is, probably.”
Here’s more about the candidates who do give a damn:
Gene Hoff has watched trends in education from the wide rearview mirror on a school bus - a vantage he says makes him a great school board candidate.
During three decades as a bus driver, Hoff said, he has watched students become more disrespectful and disobedient. He said he also has seen them do so much damage to school buses that the district gets an annual repair bill that can top $10,000.
“All this money the school district spends on vandalism could be used in education,” Hoff said.
The 69-year-old grandfather, who spends Saturday nights waltzing at the Eagles club, says he wants to make students and their parents more accountable when kids break windows or rip up seat cushions with pocketknives.
Hoff’s years in the driver’s seat have left him with plenty of ideas for improving schools.
He’d like to make sure field trips are educational. He’s put too many miles on buses headed to roller-skating rinks, he said.
Hoff also wants to get parents more involved in their children’s education. “A lot of kids in this town, you’re the first adult they see in the morning, and when you drop them off, you’re the last one they see ‘til the next.”
He says students should be required to take drug tests. “I’ve had kids on my bus I know have been on drugs,” he said. “Why should (testing) be an invasion of privacy? Our employees have to take tests.”
Hoff has had a couple of side businesses over the years. He and his longtime girlfriend once sold air-brushed T-shirts, and a few years ago they ran a lingerie business called Liaisons in their North Side home.
He closed the lingerie business because the location wasn’t good for sales, he said. “Whether I’ll ever get back into it, I don’t know.”
Hoff, a Spokane native, says he has plenty of time to devote to school board meetings and activities because recovery from arm surgery limits his school-bus driving to several hours a week.
Joanne McCann spent years as a teacher and principal in private schools. But the 63-year-old grandmother says she’s still devoted to improving public education.
“I’ve been really concerned about where education is going. I’m a big believer in academics, and I don’t think that’s where education is heading.”
Name an education issue, and McCann has an opinion.
Charter schools? “It’d be taxpayers paying for private schools, and that’s not right.”
Year-round school? “Kids need time off. I used to hate to teach when it was 80 degrees in a classroom.”
School-to-work programs? They steal precious time from academics, says McCann. “They’re going to be out in apprenticeships instead of classrooms. Are they missing English? Chemistry?”
Parents are losing more and more power over their children’s education, McCann says. “They used to be the primary educators, and now they’re called partners. I really believe they’ve been demoted.”
McCann says businesses are making decisions that belong to parents and educators. She also says too much class time is spent on social issues - drug and alcohol education, for example.
She shakes her head when talking about District 81’s year-old equity department. “They’re almost like thought police. It seems a little extreme.”
McCann has been an outspoken critic of state and national education reform.
For three years, she was vice president of a conservative Spokane parents group, Washington Parents Coalition for Academic Excellence. She traveled to Olympia, lobbying against education reform.
She decided to run for the school board after retiring this spring from Gonzaga University, where she had supervised student teachers. Her other new project, she said, is home-schooling a granddaughter who was struggling in public school.
There’s one thing Don Barlow is sure he can do for the school board: Get parents more involved.
Barlow, a 59-year-old grief counselor and former educator, says board members are doing a great job for the most part. But they fail when it comes to keeping in touch with parents, he said.
“They don’t always welcome parental involvement,” he said. “They need to meet with parents and businesses. You can’t stay isolated.”
He has become a good listener after years as a psychotherapist - an important skill for a board that sometimes is criticized for keeping parents at arm’s length, Barlow said.
He says he’d be especially good at reaching minority parents and students who have lost trust in the education system.
The Ottawa tribal member has been named Indian Administrator of the Year by the National Indian Education Association and once worked as Idaho’s Indian education director.
Barlow has run a couple of unsuccessful campaigns in the past - one for Spokane City Council, another for the school board.
He watched with admiration recently when Spokane educators decided to consider making a couple of classics - “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Huckleberry Finn” - optional reading. Some African-American students find the books offensive.
But he is keeping a wary eye on the board as it considers a policy to retain students who don’t meet stricter academic standards.
“It might discourage that kid, and they’d see themselves as a failure,” Barlow said. “Not every kid goes to college.”
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