Water, experience and maintaining quality are among the issues in the race to serve on the board that leads Spokane County’s smallest school district.
Despite bordering Spokane Public Schools – the state’s second largest school district – the Great Northern School District has fewer than 45 students.
The rural, community feel has been prized by parents, though it serves only kindergarteners through sixth-graders. After that, students head off to Cheney, Spokane or other nearby districts for middle school.
Three seats for the Great Northern School Board are on the ballot, but only one is contested. Jill Ericson, a former college administrator, is challenging incumbent board member John Pegg.
Pegg said he would continue to develop an environment where teachers are able to work closely with students at the school.
“It’s an extremely small school, and it’s a very unique school in a sense that it can provide a focused education for individual kids,” he said. “And, because it’s so small, classroom sizes are going to be more personal and the teachers are able to work more one-on-one with kids, and I’m hoping to continue to cultivate an environment like that for the kids in the school.”
Ericson said she was motivated to run for the position because she has been volunteering at local elementary and middle schools for seven years, her child is a graduate of the school and she is interested in giving back.
She said her experience working in higher education would give the board important perspective and complement other board members who do not have the same experience. She said she has worked in student support roles that help students succeed at colleges and universities by taking the right courses, learning necessary skills to perform well in the courses and make good decisions to achieve personal and professional goals.
“Being that we’re training elementary school students to be successful middle school students, high school students and so on, I think having somebody with that education experience further down the road would be helpful in board conversations and decisions that are made,” she said.
Pegg graduated from the school in 2006 with three other students in his class and only 36 in the entire school. He was first inspired to run for the position by his father, Ken Pegg, who was on the school board for 25 years, and when a position opened up, his father encouraged him to pursue it. His father also is currently running for a Great Northern School Board seat.
As a younger adult, Pegg said he would give the board a different viewpoint on the issues the school deals with.
Pegg said he does not plan to propose major changes but has some improvements in mind. Those include maintaining and improving the school building as well as getting more iPads for students so they can research for projects and not have to check out books.
If elected, Ericson plans to address issues with the school’s water quality, hire a new superintendent after the school’s current one, Glenn Frizzell, retires, and increase enrollment.
Regarding water quality, she said students are being provided bottled water because they are unable to drink the water on the premises.
“I would ask to be brought up-to-date on where Great Northern is on resolving the fact that the water in the school is unsafe to drink, necessitating that bottled water be provided to students and personnel,” she said in an email. “I would then help however I can to keep Great Northern constituents healthy and eliminate the need to provide purchased water.”
Pegg said he and the board are working together with the state Department of Health to resolve the issue, adding that it has not been a major problem because they have provided water coolers for students and staff to drink.
Ericson wants to increase the school’s enrollment so that it does not “get absorbed into one of the larger neighboring districts.”
“Where I know I can provide the most assistance to Great Northern is in working with the board to help Great Northern market itself,” she said.
Those strategies include preparing marketing materials promoting the “diamond in the rough” school to members of the community; posting most marketing content on the school’s website and providing promotional packets to real estate agents.
Pegg said the school’s enrollment depends mainly on the number of children who live in the district.
“We do accept choice students as they request to join if we have the capability to take them,” Pegg said in an email. “But for students who live within the district we welcome any growth in enrollment.”
Choice students are students who live outside the district and request to attend the district.
Ericson said she is enthusiastic about the opportunity to express her interests in a way that she feels will provide a community service. Even though she has worked in education for so long, this position would be a new outlet for her to express her passion about education, she said.
Pegg said the school tailors education for each student. For example, he said, if a student is in the third grade but can read at a fourth-grade level, teachers focus on the individual student’s “ability and speed of learning in order to keep at a level that is interesting, challenging and engaging.” He added that the same goes for students who are having difficulty in one subject.
“The nice thing about a school this size is that the community is so close that no matter who gets elected they’re going to be doing it for the right reasons,” Pegg said. “Whether I’m elected or whether my opponent is elected, I know that the school will be in good hands.”
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