By Florine Gingerich
After only a few minutes talking with Susan Paine, current president of the Edmonds School Board, it’s evident that the job is in good hands.
For one thing, she clearly believes in the Edmonds School District and its ability to educate kids well. In fact, she says she moved to Edmonds in 2002 for the schools, convinced that her two daughters with very different learning styles would be well-served here. For another, as a Board member since 2005, she demonstrates knowledge about the complexities involved in overseeing the operations and budget of the district. She also brings to the role an understanding of public policy, and education policy in particular.
That’s clear when asked about the improved graduations rates, up from 67.5% six years ago to a 93.3% extended rate in 2010, touted in the most recent district newsletter. Paine explains that a close examination of the situation revealed that many students were dropping out because they simply didn’t have enough credits to graduate, which was more of a problem than an inability to pass the WASL. The district began tracking students more closely, and counselors focused on supporting students at risk of dropping out.
“I am so proud of these kids,” Paine says of those who struggle but succeed in earning their diplomas. She notes that graduation gives those students huge successes they can build on going forward.
Those last comments illustrate one other trait Paine brings to the position: enthusiasm for the work of the Board and the district. Asked about accomplishments of the district during the time she has served, her voice becomes animated as she ticks off several in quick succession. Addition of more AP classes in the non-IB high schools. The EAACH program Dr. Kahan and others have worked on, to establish parent councils for families of color, including immigrants, to help them successfully advocate for their children. (For perspective, when she came on the board, 5 percent of the district’s students were not native English speakers; now that number is 20 percent). Adoption by the district of a comprehensive math instruction program to prepare kids for the WASL, a year ahead of a state mandate on the subject.
Asked whether there is anything she would particularly like members of the public to know about the Board’s work, Paine emphasizes that she and other members really want to hear from the community, especially with the upcoming budget discussions in the next few months. As the district may be faced with tough choices, she urges people to make their opinions known at budget meetings or Board meetings.
Paine’s term expires in November of this year. Will she run again? “Let’s see how this year goes,” she says. It’s a big commitment, involving on average 10 hours a week reading, attending meetings and talking to school officials. Washington law does provide for some compensation for Board members, but she and the rest of the members have waived the money in these tough budget times. She has a job and a family; one can understand how she might conclude six years is long enough, although, as she also says, “It’s a privilege to serve.”