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Cheney School Board incumbent faces two challengers on Tuesday’s primary ballot

By Jordan Tolley-Turner The Spokesman-Review

A long-time incumbent on the Cheney School Board faces two challengers in next Tuesday’s primary.

Suzanne G. Dolle is seeking her fourth term on the board and says her experience gives her important perspective when dealing with issues facing the district.

One of her challengers is Chad Smith, a former assistant basketball coach for Cheney High School who was put on administrative leave by the district in January 2020. He resigned in February 2020, according to the Cheney Free Press.

She also faces Zachary Zorrozua, who has nearly 20 years of experience working in social work and mental health.

Pandemic policies

Making up for lost time and getting back on track after a year of teaching amid the COVID-19 pandemic is one of Dolle’s priorities. She said she is focused on getting kids back in school safely by following the state Department of Health requirements, checking in on social-emotional learning, getting students reconnected with in-person learning and catching them up.

Smith said his main concern in running stems from the district’s handling of COVID-19.

“They did terrible,” Smith said when first prompted. After spending the past school year teaching his daughter under the self-based online schooling option, he felt like work was just “tossed at the students,” saying she would end up with the same work from previous quarters or work that was too easy.

Smith wants to prioritize getting students caught up and making sure they are not behind. He also believes that students should not have to wear a mask or be vaccinated going into the upcoming school year and that for the students to learn best there needs to be “teachers that care about teaching.”

The school district, however, may not have much of a say about masks. State guidelines released this month say students will have to wear masks indoors.

How the pandemic was handled was also a point of concern for many in the district, Zorrozua said. Although he was impressed with communication from the district superintendent and Salnave Elementary, Zorrozua also said, “the rest depended on what school you attended. I’ve had a lot of high school parents angry that they weren’t given more information throughout the process.”

Zorrozua said he would raise expectations, have solid communication with parents, and, as the next school year approaches, follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He is hopeful that as youth get vaccinated, no masks will be necessary when a student or teacher is vaccinated, and that a mask is needed if not vaccinated.

New high school?

Dolle said the district will need a second high school and that the district is on the hunt for purchasable land.

“We’re definitely looking at it and weighing all our options,” she said.

A new elementary school is also on the itinerary as new land in Airway Heights has been purchased, but she is unsure on when construction will begin. And with recent levies passed, she said the district is keeping up with future expenses and keeping technology updated.

Zorrozua said a new high school is necessary for the northern part of the district and that the current high school is “probably three years from it being well at capacity.”

He also said that the district needs to be very mindful of how to handle expected growth to adequately arrange class sizes that are currently too big, then build upon middle and elementary schools as well.

When asked about the potential of a new high school , Smith said, “I mean if the district grows anymore … I would definitely have to think about that strongly.” He also said that no construction beyond the prospect of a high school is necessary.

Other issues

Smith was put on leave from his assistant coaching job at the same time as the then-head coach Frankie Keplinger, due to allegations of verbal mistreatment of players.

In an interview last week, Smith declined to discuss allegations.

“It’s in the past and I’m over it,” Smith said.

Smith said one of his priorities would be to make school sports more competitive in the district, potentially by adding an Amateur Athletic Union team.

“I’m going to try to do the best I can for everyone in the community instead of trying to satisfy one particular group,” he said.

Dolle said after spending many years in multiple schools as a substitute teacher, preschool teacher and in school offices across the United States, she found permanency in Cheney. Originally, Dolle was asked by a friend if she would be interested in joining the board, since then she had learned and experienced the workings of Cheney’s policies and school board. Dolle enjoys the work and still feels like she has a lot left to offer, saying, “I’m just not quite done yet!”

Dolle is confident in the district’s abilities, saying that the district started the “Professional Learning Communities” process in 2017 and that all schools across the district have met the standard, figuring out what students need to know, what is good for them to know, and the extra things to teach, time permitting. She said she wants to make sure all students reach proficiency and focus on what can be done to help to help them move forward.

Born and raised in Cheney, Zorrozua feels pride in being a Cheney High School alum, and now that his two children are a part of the district, he wants it to be an overall source of gratification for all students, parents and staff. He said that although some schools do great, such as Salnave Elementary School where his children attend, he has heard many complaints from parents, students and community members regarding schools in the district, including vaping problems and parents feeling like issues were dismissed by administrative staff. One of his priorities, he said, is to demand accountability in all positions.

People who “ aren’t doing their job to the best of their ability or to the minimum expectations, should be held accountable, not just moved around,” Zorrozua said. “Cheney School District has a history of just moving people to different positions instead of holding them accountable for not doing quality work where they’re at.” He also feels like extracurricular activities should be expanded, and that doing so could help students and end up “giving kids something to take pride in, something to make their own, something to give them purpose and give them a reason to be successful in school.”

Zorrozua added that he would like the district to be more supportive of students who are struggling, particularly with mental health or substance abuse. New crisis management potential is also on his radar. He said that as a volunteer firefighter he sees many children experiencing traumatic events that can be very difficult for them to handle, especially alone, and that it may be helpful for schools to know about those events, perhaps through direct contact with the fire department.

“We have some really great people, and if we don’t expect greatness from everybody, what happens is those people that are doing outstanding work are going to get frustrated and we’re bringing down the quality of schools instead of bringing it up, so it really takes, I think, recognizing greatness in our schools and making that the expectation of all the people that work in Cheney Public Schools,” Zorrozua said.

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