Edmonds Chamber forum part 1: Questions to Edmonds School Board candidates

More than 50 citizens attended Monday evening’s candidate forum sponsored by the Edmonds Chamber.

The latest in the current cycle of election-season candidate forums brought 15 candidates in eight separate races to podium Monday evening in the Edmonds City Council Chambers. Hosted by the Edmonds Chamber and moderated by David Cornell, the event included candidates for Edmonds Mayor, City Council and School Board.

The candidates responded to a series of questions previously submitted to the chamber by its membership, and provided opening and closing statements.  Candidates did not know the questions in advance, and the format did not include the opportunity for questions from the estimated 50 citizens in attendance.

The forum began with candidates for the Edmonds School Board Rory Graves and Gary Noble, both running for position 3, Lisa Hunnewell and Nancy Katims running for position 5, and Carin Chase seeking re-election to position 1. Chase’s opponent, Alvin Rutledge, did not attend. We will present their answers now and then follow with Edmonds City Council and mayor candidates on subsequent days.

Edmonds School Board opening statements:

Carin Chase

Position 1 incumbent Carin Chase stressed her pride in the work she’s done on equity and budget management. She noted the importance of centering all ESB decisions on how they will affect students and their ability to learn and succeed.  She shared her belief that there are “multiple pathways to success,” and that the district needs to recognize, accommodate, and provide opportunities that reflect this. “The majority of the Edmonds School District students are of color,” she said.  “I am passionate about the needs of the marginalized.”

Rory Graves

Position 3 challenger Rory Graves emphasized the need to take action to address the current $17.7 million deficit facing the Edmonds School District, about which “something must be done.” She went on to list her various endorsements, background in communications, and experience with fiduciary responsibilities as a member of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility Board of Directors. Her priorities include equity, ensuring every student has equal access to resources regardless of background, that teachers and parents have the opportunity to shape decisions, and that the district develop clearly defined roles and responsibilities and hold itself accountable.

Gary Noble

Position 3 incumbent Gary Noble noted his 30 years of experience in education, the last 16 of which have been on the Edmonds School Board. He cited recent accomplishments included building five new schools, providing Chromebooks to students, standardized test scores that exceed state averages, reducing class sizes especially in kindergarten and lower grades, all while maintaining “financial integrity.” His priorities include increasing student achievement, reducing class sizes, hiring and retaining high-quality teachers, staff and administrators, and maintaining financial integrity.

Lisa Hunnewell

Position 5 challenger Lisa Hunnewell introduced herself as a “product of the public school system,” and subsequent graduation from Dartmouth College. She listed her experience working with kids in various settings, and work in training and change management with Snohomish County PUD. Noting that her three kids attend public schools in the Edmonds School District, she said that this gives her a “vested interest” in ensuring quality local public school education. She said that for the past 18 months her service on the Facilities and Bond Committee brought her to every elementary and middle school in the district, where she saw overcrowded schools, and classes held in portables without running water.  She concluded with her priorities to take a “fresh look” at homeless students, pass the 2020 bonds to relieve overcrowding, and increase diversity in teaching and admin staff. “I come with an open mind, ready to make good, data-driven decisions,” she said.

Nancy Katims

Nancy Katims told of devoting her entire professional life to public education, her credentials including a Ph.D. in education, and as a parent her personal stake in the Edmonds School District.  She stated her belief that the budget issues are “symptomatic of other problems,” and that one primary reason for this is that the district lacks measurable goals that would inform appropriate allocation of resources. In addition, she stressed that many students are not getting equitable access to resources, and that lines of communication need improvement.

Cornell then posed the first question, directing it to Gary Noble and Rory Graves.

The school district is exploring a change in student classification to move 6th grade from elementary schools into our middle schools. What measures can the district take to ensure this change is smooth and successful for the students, teachers and parents?

Noble responded that while this will relieve overcrowding in elementary schools by moving 6th grade to middle school, it is a very complex process that will require bonds for a new middle school and additional teacher training.

Graves replied that preparing teachers for the shift from teaching in elementary school to middle school will be a challenge.  Students also need to be prepared for the shift to a middle school environment and its different academic, social and emotional challenges.

The next question was directed to Nancy Katims and Lisa Hunnewell.

As rates of youth anxiety, depression and suicide are increasing steadily, what role does the school district play in supporting students’ mental health?

Katims stressed the need for counseling resources and advocating at the state level to fund this. She also said it is “very important” for each student to have a designated person in school responsible for keeping track of them, so they know there’s a special person who cares about them. In a broader sense, she cited the need to ensure that the school climate is inclusive and supportive of all, and that this needs to be part of the goals and accountability structure.

Hunnewell believes addressing this issue “starts with counselors” and includes looking at the environment of testing, homework and pressure for grades, which can increase student stress. She also identified addressing bullying and building connections between teachers and kids.

The next question went to Rory Graves and Gary Noble.

The Edmonds School District is planning to ask voters to pass a $600 million bond to build two new schools and replace three others. Are you in favor of this proposal? Why?

Graves stated that she favors the bond because the district need more infrastructure to accommodate its student population.  She also noted that because it replaces recently retired bonds, it won’t raise taxes.

Noble also favors the bond, stating that it will be especially needed to fund infrastructure, teacher and staff needs as the district moves from its current 7-8 middle school structure to a 6-7-8 middle school system. Further, this funding will help the district eliminate portables and “become a 21st century school district.”

The next question was directed to Hunnewell and Katims.

The opioid crisis is affecting all facets of our community. What actions will you take to ensure the safety of our schools and students?

Hunnewell mentioned the email from Superintendent Kris McDuffy circulated earlier in the day addressing the opioid problem and identifying the need for counselors and other resources as we move forward to address it. She related how she used this information to have an “immediate discussion” with her own child, and how she believes that this kind of information and subsequent parent-child discussions, information in classes, and involving counselors are key components of addressing this.

Katims went back to her earlier-stated need for equitable access to services and opportunities, and the importance of having a caring adult to work with each student.

The next question went to Gary Noble and Rory Graves. 

What role does the school district play in assisting students deemed “at risk” due to factors like housing instability, food insecurity, impacted by the opioid epidemic, etc.?

Noble expressed that he feels an array of factors contribute to this. There are “thousands” of different reasons for student not achieving, and the District has specialists in secondary schools that help connect students and families with resources.

Graves shared that her kids were on free and reduced lunch because it was needed at the time due to her husband being laid off, saying it was a “wonderful safety net.”  She believes that the schools need to be a stable, safe place for students.

The final question was for Nancy Katims and Lisa Hunnewell. 

School shootings are not going to go away; what actions do you propose to help curb these multi-faceted tragedies?

Katims stressed that schools need to be built safe with controlled access and other enhancements to ensure security, and that this is yet another reason why the current bond issue is important.  She also favors an alert system where students and parents are taught to be aware of danger signs and to report anything suspicious.

Hunnewell believes that teaching kids to be aware of their surroundings can provide the critical “first alert” in these situations.  Returning to her earlier comment about portables without running water, she noted the potential risk to students needing to leave these buildings and access the main building to use the bathrooms.  She also cited the importance of having police officers available in schools.

Closing statements were next.

Hunnewell recalled being approached about running for the school board and overcoming her initial reluctance as the campaign progressed. She spoke of the people she met, being “humbled” by their stories, and that she would be honored to represent them on the school board.

Katims reiterated her love for the Edmonds School District, that she is already known to many teachers and administrators, and that her experience will allow her to “hit the ground running.”

Graves noted that as a parent who works full time and deals with the rising cost of living, she knows first-hand what other parents are up against. She also noted her commitment to “closing the opportunity gap” and being an advocate for parents and students to “get the education they deserve.”

Noble spoke of the past year as “challenging,” but reiterated his belief that we have a great district with a record of strong accomplishments that exceed state averages.

You can watch the video of the forum here.

— By Larry Vogel

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