Want equity? Elect three new school board members!

The school board is the crucial leadership body for effecting real change in the way the Portland Public Schools District does business. Therefore it’s urgent that school equity activists start now in seeking out and campaigning for three new board members who will represent the interests of the vast majority of parents and district stakeholders who believe that a public school district should offer equal educational opportunities to all students regardless of family background and economic status.

As Steve Rawley pointed out in a recent post, “In other words, despite the demonstrable harm [district leaders] are doing to at least half the students of Portland, the perceived risk to their constituency outweighs the clear benefit to the greater common good.” They refuse, he says, to even talk about it.

Community members can’t change district leadership, but they do have a say in electing the representatives who can — the Portland Public Schools Board of Education. The school board chooses the district superintendent, it develops district policies, and it ratifies — or rejects — policies proposed by the district administration. It also can be a powerful bully pulpit for change. In other words, the real power lies with the men and women who are chosen to represent the interests of the broader community.

I say it’s time for a change.

As most of you know, the board this summer will pick a replacement for departing board member Dan Ryan. PPS Equity has urged the board to replace Ryan with either Jefferson activist and teacher Nancy Smith or with former board member and teacher Steve Buel. In addition the terms of Trudy Sargent and Sonja Henning are up in the spring. I’ve argued that both should be replaced with candidates willing to confront the district policies that have led to a two-tiered school system of schools with resources and those without.

We in the activist community need to start now. I speak from experience. I ran for the board in 2003, but didn’t make my decision until the February before the May election. Despite the late start, I still managed to finish second in a field of eight to Doug Morgan. If had to do it over again, I would have started much earlier.

So here’s my challenge. First we need to make every effort to see that the board appoints either Nancy or Steve B. to the board this summer. Then we need to find and recruit at least two good candidates from the Madison cluster and the Marshall and Franklin clusters, respectively. As I wrote in a comment to Steve Rawley’s post, I know that the Madison area is a hotbed of district discontent. Surely some good “equity” candidates are available to fill that seat.

I know less about Zone 6, the seat held by Trudy Sargent. But that’s where you come in. Send your ideas, meaning the names of potential candidates, to this site.

Let’s see if we can get something going, maybe start a mini-uprising for equity and democracy. Let’s take back the school board!

Terry Olson passed away in October, 2009. He was a retired teacher and a neighborhood schools activist. His blog, OlsonOnline, was a seminal space for the discussion of educational equity in Portland.