SLSD board members share hopes for future


This month is School Board Recognition Month in Oregon. The Oregon School Boards Association has set aside the month of January to honor the unpaid elected volunteers who serve on Oregon’s 197 local school boards, 19 education service district boards and 17 community college boards.

Some in the community may be curious what exactly a school board does.

Among the South Lane School Board’s responsibilities, the board establishes rules that govern schools in accordance with state and federal laws while authorizing, appropriating and approving the district’s budget each year. The school board also hires the superintendent and is responsible for evaluating the superintendent’s performance on an annual basis.

As elected members of the community, the school board’s work is done in public and it serves as a communication body between the community and school district with board positions up for election every four years.

The Sentinel has asked members of the South Lane School Board to answer some questions, both personal and general, which will provide the community a snapshot of the people they’ve elected and a window into the volunteer work they do. 

The following are answers provided by SLSD board members who were available to participate.

__________________

1.  What inspired you to become a school board member?

Sherry Duerst-Higgins, chair —

I wanted to be involved and engaged in education in my community at the time my three children were attending schools in South Lane. I felt it was important to become a board member to serve my community and the students of South Lane. Our students are our future and our responsibility to educate and support in their efforts to succeed now and in the future. It has been my privilege serve my community and to make the decisions I can for our students’ education.

Alan Baas, vice chair — 

Most of my career has been in education-related work, from high school teaching to research anal-yses to career education to university publications and college scholarships. It was a no-brainer that I apply for the school board when I retired — I’ve seen too much of education not to want to keep supporting it however I can.

Jerry Settelmeyer — 

I believe that kids deserve the very best education we can provide and with my pre-retirement experience I believe I can help “expect and provide” that standard through participation and en-couragement as a School Board member.

Tammy Hodgkinson —

I have a sincere belief that government is a participatory activity and if we want government to work, then the best place to start (outside of voting) is at the local level. Plus, as a former kindergarten teacher, I have a passion for the fundamental significance of Preschool/Early Elementary education.  It’s a perspective that I think is critical to bring to the board. I also have family members who are disabled. Children (and their families) in the disability community face unique challenges in education. It can be overwhelming and isolating to navigate at times and one of my goals is to be an advocate for them.

Dustin Bengtson —

I’ve been involved in youth sports as the president of South Valley Athletics for a number of years and was a member of the bond committee. And really it was my involvement in the bond committee that led me to want to figure out a different way to support the school district. In walking through the community and trying to articulate the need for that bond investment, it was interesting the see the wide difference in opinion of how the district was not only performing, but utilizing funds, which were really in conflict with my own. So I thought maybe I could help with that.

2. How important is community engagement and what does that look like?

Sherry Duerst-Higgins, 

chair — 

Extremely important. I am involved in my community through service on several community boards, through my business connections and volunteering in nonprofits. I interact with members of my community on a daily basis. I listen and encourage interaction from my community members. I encourage feedback from parents, students and other community members on their thoughts and ideas in the direction of the school district. I am elected to hear from the community and make decisions that support our school district.

Alan Baas, vice chair —

We are elected by public vote. How can I not consider the community in everything I do as a board member? Particularly in these troubled times where globally, nationally, and locally folks are struggling with pretty big issues. We all have a responsibility to see to it that our children are equipped for the changes that accompany these challenges.

More specifically, one of the characteristics we as a board expressed for applicants for the upcoming permanent superintendent position was an “ability to build and sustain strong, effective community/business partnerships that impact student success.” Seems to me such partnering must include active board participation in understanding and building such relationships. Keeping in mind the board’s role is at the policy level and often does not touch school operations, I don’t want to presume to say what all this is going to look like.

Jerry Settelmeyer —

Very important, although we have not achieved that involvement, most likely developed through many years of not being engaged to function that way.

Dustin Bengtson —

That the community has an understanding of the decisions that the district makes. We have to be as transparent as we can on how we utilize public funds and managing the resources of the district. And that involves not only school board, but parents and teachers trying to articulate what we’re doing and how we’re doing the best we can with what we have available to us.

And I do believe that there’s room for improvement in anything we do, but there’s an awful lot of good things happening within South Lane School District, so we need to think of ways to involve people more consistently throughout our decision-making process. 

A really good example of that recently is the work being done on the Student Success Act funds.

3. Which of the board’s current areas of focus are you most interested in working on?

Sherry Duerst-Higgins, 

chair —

The most important area of involvement in the next few months is the selection and hiring of our next superintendent.

Someone that is highly qualified with visionary leadership skills, experience as an administrator, excellent communication skills, integrity and to be involved in our community. In a few weeks we will be reviewing and interviewing the candidates. 

This will involve the board, staff, parents and community members. It is extremely important to select the most qualified candidate that can lead South Lane School District into the future.

Alan Baas, vice chair —

Anything that wakes us all up to how the town and the gown — the community and the schools — must work together if we are to educate children suited to deal with the future my generation is bestowing on them. More directly, of course, we are doing a great job once again with strong attention to Career Technology Education (CTE) as well as maintaining an excellent Family Resource Center with good services for our many diverse populations. 

Jerry Settelmeyer —

I believe the board focus on being more aware of what is actually happening in our schools may lead to more beneficial and actual involvement in bettering the education in our district. Many fantastic things are happening each school day and with clearer understanding of the challenges and needs in our district we will be able to help make even more fantastic happen.

Tammy Hodgkinson — 

Equity is a hot issue right now in education, but it’s important that “equity” becomes a goal we strive to actually achieve, and not just a buzzword we employ to add a thin veneer of temporary credibility to the District. I find it very encouraging that the Student Success Act will allow the District to first, identify areas where we need to improve, and then address those deficits in meaningful ways backed by data. 

It’s also encouraging that the Legislature seems to be quite serious about wanting to be active partners with Oregon’s school districts in this process. I have seen a lot of legislative initiatives plow through education. 

Inevitably, the results, good or bad, just wind up being tucked away in an obscure file somewhere and that’s the end of it. On to the next “new thing.” The SSA feels different and I’m excited to see it actually help us reach the kids who need it the most.   

Dustin Bengtson —

The most important thing for all of us right now is the selection of the new superintendent. That individual will have a huge influence on the success of the district and what we can provide for kids. I come from a background of facilities and asset management, so I’m very interested in how we use our facilities. The school district has an interesting role in the community in that we own all these resources that the community relies on whether or not you have kids in school.

4. What are you most proud of accomplishing in your position as board member?

Sherry Duerst-Higgins, 

chair —

Directing and supporting the board passage of a new high school, the building of Harrison, the updating of our aquatic center, selecting a permanent facility and continuing to meet the needs of the high school. That means working with students, parents and the community to be able to provide the best education we are able to with the dollars and resources available to us.

Alan Baas, vice chair —

Working with six other citizens with clearly different points of view who are also all clearly dedicated to the goal of helping our kids grow up to be the best they can be.

Jerry Settelmeyer —

Encouraging more communication and information sharing.

Tammy Hodgkinson —

One of the things I learned after being elected to the Board is that Board members are expected to set policy, but typically you aren’t the people doing the actual work. That said, we can lend our support to the work that others are doing and influence the direction that the district takes. 

I am extremely proud of the vibrant network of local agencies, resources, and collaboration that Jackie Lester and Ana Maria Dudley built to support our families and students in the district. Thanks to years of their hard work and dedication, South Lane is a candidate to open a Community Health Center. I like to think that my support for their amazing work helped in some small way to keep it going.         

Dustin Bengtson —

I’ve only been there since July, but I think we are very fortunate to have Yvonne Curtis as our interim superintendent. 

I think she’s bringing tremendous capacity to the district and will help us understand our needs. So if there’s anything I feel I contributed to, it’s that piece. I think we should all feel good about having Yvonne as our interim superintendent.

5. What role can the board play in any anticipated challenges for the school district this year?

Sherry Duerst-Higgins, 

chair —

To be active and engaged with our district, staff, students and parents with the Student Success Act, which will provide a $2 million increase in our budget to be able to give more opportunities, to improve the education for all our students. As board members we are actively involved and engaged in facilitating this process.

Alan Baas, vice chair —

Our board as a whole has been working hard at understanding just what is required of a board to do its best. I expect we all will continue reflecting on our roles and taking advantage of training available from our board association. 

The extra funding pouring into all Oregon schools from the Student Success Act directs us to support community outreach in a wide spectrum of areas, from matters of diversity to careers, all of which our board is clearly committed to helping with. 

Also, I hope to help hire a new superintendent who is visionary enough to be sensitive to how the past may not be a good guide for the future and who also comes with the professional experience to help our district and town deal with the many changes facing education today. 

Jerry Settelmeyer —

Being good listeners and active information gatherers. Critical thinkers regarding selecting a long-term leader for our district. 

And always culturing a stronger education with every staff member, family and student.

Tammy Hodgkinson —

Honestly, the biggest challenge the board faces this year is to find the right long-term superintendent for the district. We have some important decisions to make about the direction we want to take and the style of leadership we want for the district. 

It’s a good challenge though, because it brings with it opportunities to begin engaging the community in conversations about the other challenges we face: creating safe and inclusive schools; staff retention; equity; declining enrollment; etc.      

Dustin Bengtson —

For us, I think it’s working through this process and choosing the next head of the school district. As that person comes on board, it’s our role to get them on board and grounded to work through both budget and personnel needs for the district. 

That’s where we’re going to have to invest our time. 

That’s where I hope to help.

Advertisement


Video News
More In Home