The big news in the race to join the Spokane Public Schools board is that there are six candidates vying for two seats. It’s the first contested primary in the district in 16 years. The race is shaped by another momentous event: After three decades of wrangling, the Legislature has made major additions to what constitutes basic education in Washington state. Those changes will have an impact on just about every major decision school board members make.
Voters have three thoughtful and knowledgeable candidates for Position 3: Deana Brower, Heidi Olson and Jeffrey Bierman. All three vied for an appointment to the position last year, when board member Christie Querna stepped down. Bierman was selected.
Brower, 39, is the parent-teacher president at Jefferson Elementary School and taught for 12 years before moving to Spokane. She serves on the Citizens Advisory Council on Human Growth, Development and Safety. She worked on the most recent school levy campaign, which was successful. She says she longs for the days Christie Querna and Barbara Richardson were on the board, because they were more collaborative. She would like for the board to offer more support to teachers and would “leave classrooms alone as much as possible.” She has the endorsement of the Spokane Education Association.
Heidi Olson, 61, taught secondary education for many years in Utah and has had eight children go through Spokane schools. More recently, she has taught foreign students at Eastern Washington University’s extended learning program. She makes good points about the U.S. system teaching individualism, while other countries have collectivist systems. While that’s interesting, it’s not clear how that would play out as a board member.
Bierman, 42, has been in the job nine months and has already noted an important change, which he advocated. Members are more apt to disagree in public and cast dissenting votes. In the past, the board would present a united front, with a long string of 5-0 votes. That made it difficult to know where board members really stood on the issues.
One of the chief reasons Bierman was selected was his strong background in math and science. He is a physics professor at Gonzaga and is on the state’s science advisory panel. He has worked at educating the district on why the math curriculum is insufficient – namely, that it falls short in teaching “technical fluency,” or how math can be applied in the real world. He says the state’s math standards used to be the problem but those are “heaps” better. Now the task is to align the district.
Bierman is concerned that the high dropout rate could be tied to the district’s limited offerings and social promotion in middle school. He says middle schools aren’t challenging students enough, which can set them up for high school struggles.
With his knowledge in math and science and insistence on pushing for more openness and academic rigor, Bierman is the right choice.