Joanne McCann and Don Barlow don’t know much about each other, even though they enrolled in the same ballroom dance class years ago.
But it’s obvious they’re dancing to different tunes.
Voters will decide which they prefer in November, when they send one of the candidates to the Spokane District 81 School Board.
In primary voting Tuesday, McCann received 45.5 percent of the vote, Barlow 30.6 percent, produce clerk David Robertson 15.5 percent and school bus driver Gene Hoff 8.1 percent.
McCann, a retired educator, and Barlow, a grief counselor, will compete for the No. 1 position Nancy Fike is leaving this fall.
“It’s going to be an interesting race,” Barlow predicted Tuesday night.
Barlow, 59, says public education is headed in the right direction. McCann, 63, is hoping for a U-turn.
Barlow wants to get minority families more involved in District 81 schools. McCann compares the district’s equity team to “thought police.”
Their differences are also revealed in their reactions to how poorly kids in Spokane and across Washington scored in the state’s new fourth-grade assessments.
McCann, who helped create an active parents organization devoted to fighting the state’s education reform plan, detests the tests.
“I have studied the assessments, and I just don’t think they’re good,” said McCann, who believes they represent a shift from the basics.
Barlow called the poor scores a “wake-up call,” but he doesn’t blame the tests.
“Any time you start with new tests, you’re going to have some problems - but not necessarily with the test. We just need to continue to strive to give the kids the basics.”
Both candidates have experience in education.
McCann has taught in public and private schools. She also was principal at St. Francis School and most recently supervised student teachers at Gonzaga University. She’s now home-schooling a granddaughter.
Barlow coordinated Indian education programs at District 81 for 12 years and worked as Idaho’s Indian education director. He’s an Ottawa tribal member and traditional dancer.
On Tuesday night, Barlow sat quietly at home in front of his computer, typing e-mail to send to his son in Seattle.
McCann waited for results at a party at her campaign manager’s house. “It’s exciting!” she said of her first political race. “I think it’ll heat up now.”
The candidates agree on one issue: The five-member school board needs to make itself more accessible to parents. Often only educators attend the twice-monthly meetings.
Barlow said his listening skills as a counselor give him an edge when it comes to making parents feel welcome.
McCann said she considers most school business the public’s business, and she’d be sure citizens get to hear the issues frankly debated.
She goes to several Spokane school board meetings a year and says members are far too agreeable. “I’ve never seen a good public debate,” McCann said.