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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

In Medical Lake, two political newcomers are running for a soon-to-be vacant seat on the school board

A boutique owner and paraprofessional school employee are vying to fill the soon-to-be vacated District 1 seat on the Medical Lake School Board.

Gerri Johnson and Lennelle Spillman, who are members of the Redemption Church congregation, both graduated from Medical Lake High School. The candidates made it out of Washington’s most crowded school board primary last August, in which 17 contenders ran for four open seats.

Johnson, who owns the store Farm Salvation, took first place in August’s primary race for the seat, drawing 50% of the vote. She said her experience as president of local nonprofit ReImagine Medical Lake and past experience working in early childhood education would suit her on the board.

“I’m very engaged in the community and very invested in families,” Johnson said. “I look for any way to help out.”

Spillman, a Cheney School District employee, came in second place with roughly 30% of the District 1 primary vote. She said her experience working in schools would prove useful on the board.

“I’ve done everything from working in the kitchen, to physical education, to secretarial work, to recess and bus loop supervision,” Spillman said. “And of course, working in the classroom with a teacher. I’ve seen a little bit of everything.”

Johnson and Spillman differ in their work experience but agree on most school issues. Both candidates are running on a platform of increased transparency, citing a since-defunct policy that temporarily blocked public comment at school board meetings.

Enrollment among Medical Lake students dropped by about 70 pupils since the Gray fire burned through much of the district in August, according to data provided by the local teachers union.

Spillman said the district should invest in more mental health resources for students and their families, like counselors. She also said it is crucial that the board ensure students displaced by the fire are still able to attend Medical Lake schools, even if they relocated out-of-district. To do this, Spillman said the board must help coordinate special school bus routes.

Higher test scores in the district are another goal Spillman said she would work toward if elected. In an interview, she pointed toward statewide standardized testing data gathered by the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction

2023 data showed Medical Lake students excelled beyond statewide averages in three standardized test categories: math, science and English language arts. About 55% of students in Medical Lake schools met English language arts standards, 52% met math standards and 61% met science standards.

Statewide, about 51% of students met English language arts standards, 39% met math standards and 43% met science standards, as reported by the state OSPI.

“While I was pleased to see that the district was higher than the state standards, there’s still room for improvement,” Spillman said.

When asked how to improve test scores, Spillman said school leaders should encourage students to engage with topics they enjoy by joining clubs like Math is Cool, a state math competition for students in grades 4 through 12.

Johnson, who agreed to be interviewed in the primary race, declined an interview for the general election, citing a lack of time as she works to organize community wildfire recovery efforts.

Spillman and Johnson differ in their opinions on the state-mandated instruction of sexual education in public schools.

State law defines sex education for students in grades 4 through 12 as “recurring instruction in human development and reproduction that is medically accurate, age-appropriate and inclusive of all students.”

Johnson said she supports sex education being taught in the classroom and believes in the separation of church and state, as suggested by  the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Spillman does not believe in the separation of church and state, and for religious reasons, said she doesn’t want sex education being taught in schools, despite what state law says.

“There are things that should be a parent’s responsibility to teach at home,” she said. “Anything of a sexual nature, whether it be sex education or who marriage should be between.”

Johnson carries the endorsement of the local teacher’s union.

“Gerri is a long time member of the community who has already made a difference through her work with Re-Imagine Medical Lake and the Lions Club,” wrote Ryan Grant, union president of the Medical Lake Education. “It would be great to have someone with her knowledge and connections on the Board advocating for kids!”

The candidate elected for position 1 will serve a two-year term on the Medical Lake School Board.

For the general election, Oct. 30 is the deadline to register online and via mail. Nov. 7 is the deadline to register at the polls.

Election day is Nov. 7, and ballots are due in drop boxes at 8 p.m. that day.