July 25, 2009 in City

Six vie for two seats on school board

Contested primaries are rare in Spokane
By The Spokesman-Review
Christopher Anderson photo

(Full-size photo)(All photos)


Proceeding to the general election in November will be: Heidi Olson and Jeff Bierman; and Rocky Treppiedi and Laura Carder.

Teachers union names its picks

The Spokane Education Association – the union representing more than 3,000 teachers and support staff – interviewed all six school board candidates. Its recommendations for the two positions are Austin DePaolo and Deana Brower, according to President Jenny Rose.

Math curriculum, all-day kindergarten and tight budgets are a few of the issues facing the Spokane School Board in upcoming months.

Two board incumbents – Rocky Treppiedi and Jeff Bierman – hope they will be elected to stay and address those issues.

“The reason I ran in the first place was to make some changes,” Treppiedi said. “Now things are finally going that way. We’re poised to make change.”

The incumbents each face two challengers in the Aug. 18 primary election.

There hasn’t been a contested primary for a seat on the board of Washington’s second-largest school district since 1993.

Board positions are at-large. As long as the person lives within the district’s boundaries, they can run.

Position No. 4

The candidates running against Treppiedi are Austin DePaolo, 45, and Laura Carder, 62.

“Spokane needs new leadership on the school board that is focused on nailing down what works, casting aside what doesn’t and ensuring that every dime is strategically spent,” DePaolo said.

DePaolo grew up in Spokane and attended mostly Catholic schools but graduated from North Central High School. After attending Hunter College, he taught in New York’s Spanish Harlem.

In 1996 he moved back to the Spokane area and has worked with a variety of community organizations. The father of three is currently a consultant for the College Success Foundation, which seeks to “increase community engagement in the schools” to boost student achievement, he wrote.

DePaolo considers a role on the school board as a way to meld his experiences in education and working with the community.

Carder, who’s semi-retired, says she’d like to be “a fly on the wall to see what they are teaching in the schools.”

She says she’s qualified to serve on the school board because she’s a registered voter; she moved to Spokane in 2005.

The community volunteer has degrees in music and math, she said. “I got a degree in elementary education too, but that didn’t work out. I became a computer programmer.” As a board member, Carder said she’d work to move sixth-graders into middle school; be better informed about what’s being taught in social studies; and seek to have creationism taught in science class.

In regard to the budget, she said: “Maybe we can get rid of one of the levels of bureaucracy in the district, maybe one of the mid-levels.”

Treppiedi, 52, has been elected to the board twice. He says that experience is important to doing a good job for the district.

The Spokane city attorney feels he has good relationships with legislators and state educators that will help provide a better voice for the school district, he said.

Treppeidi, a father of three, is an advocate of all-day kindergarten, which he believes could decrease the drop-out rate. “Every kid needs a solid foundation. The stronger the foundation you provide, the better the kids do, all kids.”

His priorities include making sure children achieve at their highest level through a rigorous curriculum, and being a good watchdog of taxpayers’ money.

Position No. 3

The candidates running against Bierman are Heidi Olson, 61, and Deana Brower, 39.

“My family has benefited from the Spokane school district,” Olson said. “I feel my family owes a debt.”

Olson’s eight children went to Spokane Public Schools. She currently has grandchildren in the school system.

She has a master’s degree in education and has been certified to teach primary and secondary education.

“I feel like we are at a place in our culture that we haven’t been before,” said Olson, adding that educational experts are examining collective versus individualized learning. “WASL is a collective assessment method in an individualistic infrastructure.”

Regarding the budget, Olson said: “I hope, as everyone is hoping, that the economy is going to improve.”

Olson is primarily concerned with the dropout rate in Spokane. As a board member, she would hope to establish programs to prevent that.

Brower worked with Citizens for Spokane Schools to pass the recent levy. “After it passed, I asked myself: ‘What’s next?’ ”

The mother of two said running for a school board position felt like a “natural next step.”

Brower taught secondary education for 12 years and currently serves on the Citizens Advisory Council on Human Growth, Development and Safety, which reviews and recommends curriculum for the district. She’s also the president of Jefferson Elementary School’s parent-teacher group.

One of Brower’s primary concerns is the budget. “I’m grateful our community did pass our levy. It helped. I would continue to look at every penny,” she said. “I would leave the classroom alone as much as possible.”

Bierman, who was appointed to the board in 2008, said: “Being on the board is a lot of work, but it’s really cool. It’s cool doing stuff for kids.”

The 41-year-old is a physics professor at Gonzaga University. He currently has three children in the district. Bierman was also appointed to the Washington state Board of Education Science Standards Advisory Council.

His goals as a board member include increasing the range of academic courses and programs and ensuring all students are challenged academically.

To address a future budget shortfall, Bierman said one approach he’d take is seeking to obtain more federal money to fund special education.

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