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By Max Erickson and Brandon Cline
News Editor and News Reporter 

School board candidates in round table discussion on issues

 


Primary elections for the Goldendale School Board Pos. 4 is Aug 1, and voters will have three candidates to choose from when casting their ballots, voting for a board member to serve a four-year term.

John Hoctor, a Goldendale native and long-time community participant, has held the position for the past eight-years, and is running for a third term. He is challenged by Stephen Kenny, a water treatment consultant, and T.J. Wilder, lead pastor at Bible Baptist Church in Goldendale.

The Sentinel extended an invitation to these candidates to have an open round table discussion, giving each candidate an opportunity to present their ideas and qualifications for why they are the best person for the job.

Hoctor attended in person and Kenny, who attended by speaker phone, answered questions posed by the editorial staff of the Sentinel. Wilder, however, was unable to join the conversation due to a misunderstanding about the date.

The following is a partial transcript of the discussion:

Question: Why are you running for the Goldendale School Board? If elected, what will be your priorities?

Stephen Kenney: I moved to Goldendale six years ago, and I have seen more apathy among the community in regards to education--and the school district in general--than I am comfortable with. Secondly, there seems to be over the last couple of years more chaos surrounding certain administrative officials, and a handful of teachers. The biggest issues that I can think includes the bond that got shot down, which in my opinion weighed too much toward too non-directly educational things. My third reason for wanting to run is that looking on the state’s website, by their own assessment tests, only 50-60 percent of students are adequately passing the subjects. I think that number should be higher.

John Hoctor: Well, I’ve lived in Goldendale my whole life, my kids have went to school here as well as lots of my family. I’ve always been active in the school and activities at the school. I’ve enjoyed the time that I’ve been on the school board, and I feel that you can’t just do something on the board the first four years. It’s too much of a learning process, you have to get up to speed on the past history and changes. We’ve had such a turnover of teachers the past 3-4 years, [the board] has set priorities on teachers that are on board with working together and being able to step up if someone is needed for a class other than what they’re teaching.

Q: What particular experiences or skills have prepared you to serve as a board member?

SK: First of all, I hope Mr. Hoctor wouldn’t hold my youth and inexperience against me, to paraphrase a comment from a past presidential campaign. But I do have experience. I was a student in high school myself when my father was a school board president. I saw a concerned citizen’s group that he organized himself to straighten up a few issues, which included things such as nepotism and cronyism. They were successful in handling a lot of those issues. Granted I was young when I got to see it, but I was inspired by a great person like my father to want to jump in with both feet. Talking specific skills, I have a bachelor’s of science in chemistry, and have used it over the past 25 years in a sales type of role. I am able to deal with a variety of personality types and understanding other points of view and a variety of education levels, like a sort of manager.

JH: I graduated from Goldendale, and went to Yakima Valley Community College and got a two-year degree in vocational agriculture technology. I came home from that and farmed with my dad, and was able to buy my own ranch. I went to work at the Boise sawmill until it closed, and then I was able to get a job at the Chevron bulk plant, and was a manager there for 20 years. And there I basically got to see most new people come into town. That gave me a real diversity in being able to talk to people. I’m on the Klickitat County Cattlemen’s Association, was the chair of the Klickitat County Hay growers for several years, I was on the Conservation District’s board as treasurer and vice president. There’s been several different ways I’ve worked with people, and on the school board I’ve continued to learn and deal with people.

Q: What do you see as the major issues facing the school district?

SK: I would look at anything that comes before me [as a board member] first through the prism of: will this item that I’m looking at help in any way the students’s education? My philosophy is if you keep that as the very first consideration, it should make life on the school board a lot simpler. I would like to see some more experienced teachers hired in lieu of the state Supreme Court’s McCleary Decision. Granted that I haven’t seen how [the McCleary Decision] will pan out yet since it’s such a recent development, but I think a lot of that money should go towards luring some experienced teachers to help along some of these newer teachers who haven’t yet gotten their feet on the ground really well.

JH: One of the big things they were pushing for with the idea of redoing the high school with the bond, was to improve the technology and the capacity of wifi, and heating and air conditioning. The only way it can improve is with a lot of work to make the electrical and wifi more accessible. Kids get out of school now and know how to do everything electronically. That’s where the school district was trying to go, with the future for them. We implemented a policy that if there was any teachers who were going to retire or leave, that if they told the district administration by the end of Christmas break, that they would get an amount of money that was based on encouraging them to speak up, but also let the principals of the school that were losing that teacher to go start looking for new teachers. The west side of the state is able to pay teachers more because they have more of a tax structure that allows more money. It’s hard to get people to come to Goldendale, but it’s even harder to keep them once they’ve got some experience.

Q: Do you have a sense of why the bond failed and what would it take to get it to pass at this point?

JH: I know there was a lot of people talking about sports. But of the roughly 300 kids in high school, half of them participate in some kind of activity. Whether it be football or basketball, FFA, aerobics, band, all of those activities are really picking up again with the teachers and guidance they’re getting. But students can’t be a part of that unless they have good grades. So that gives them an incentive to keep their grades up, get their homework done. I think a lot of people took it and said ‘no, I don’t want to vote for something that promotes sports.’ And that’s where they stopped, rather than looking and seeing that those kids are good students, they have to work at their grades, and it helps the overall student body if more than half of the students are participating. They don’t have to be state champions, they just have to be participating. The district held several meetings and open houses at the high school. We had three different tours, and each time fewer and fewer people came. It was not good participation by the voters to see what they could offer or ask of what was being asked of them.

SK: Mr. Hoctor definitely touched on some things that were good points. I did attend the big open house held at the high school gymnasium. I toured around each of the round robin stops, and there was a lot of good information. I thought the presentation was excellent. I just thought that too much of the dollar amount was aimed towards things that Mr. Hoctor didn’t cover, such as I recall the resurfacing of the tennis courts and a second gymnasium. There were things like that, and in addition to that they wanted to add a whole new building for the concession stands. Which, I’m not against having great facilities, but I’m looking at this with a mindset of: how are our students doing on their performance tests? What’s the graduation rate? We could be spending more money on teachers and directly educational things that could help the students improve their grades first. I think they would have a lot better chance of passing a bond if they picked one of the three items I mentioned and set it aside, or perhaps run a second bond and split the items up. I just think it was weighed too heavy towards things that weren’t going to directly help students learn.

Q: Presently the board has strict rules about who can speak at board meetings and on what topics. Would you continue that policy or suggest a different approach?

SK: I’ve been a part of organizations where I’ve seen it been handled both ways. I think that when it’s a public school board meeting, I think the public has a right to speak. Obviously you want to limit the length of time of the meetings. I think the proper way to handle it is to have a strong chairperson who is running the meetings and having the proper judgement to limit the amount of time any one particular person speaks. In a worst-case scenario, at the outset of any meeting, a section of public comment should be had, whether it’s limited to two minutes or five minutes per person. You can limit [public comment] to what’s on the agenda. I wouldn’t want to put it in words yet, but something along the lines that would be encouraging to have people participate more. And that goes back to my earlier statement, about the apathy by too many individuals in the community. The perfect example of that is that so many positions are uncontested during this election. If people were really involved in the school district, you would expect to see more people wanting to run for school board, more people wanting to show up at meetings regularly, more people participating--like I did--with the PTA. If they feel like they’re being isolated from the process, they’re either going to rebel or they’re just going to give up or stop trying.

JH: [The current policy] came about because a lot of research was done, other school districts in this area were contacted, and it goes back to the fact that a lot of the issues that come to the main meeting in front of the school board haven’t followed the procedure of working it out with the child or teacher or somebody who’s had a conflict. They want to skip over [the procedure] and come to the school board. If they haven’t tried to work it out before coming to the school board, it has to go back to the level it started at. We recommended as a board that they call and get on the agenda. That’s why that part was put in there. That way, before someone stands up and starts talking about something, we have an idea of what’s going to be presented. The reason why we limit it to two minutes is because that’s what most school boards use. It’s following what is common practice among school boards. We’ve changed the initial paragraph that’s read at the beginning of each meeting to say that if they have more comments they can present it either electronically or handwritten to the administration, and then they will work with it to see how it can be worked out. But bringing it directly to the school board is not really the answer to get it solved. It has to be worked out in the chain of command.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to say to the readers of the Goldendale Sentinel about your candidacy?

JH: I’ve always said that it is we the board, not I the individual. When someone gets an ‘I want to do this’ type of attitude, they’re one against four other board members. They have to convince those four others their way of thinking. It’s hard to do that sometimes. You can put the idea out there, but you can’t think it’s going to happen overnight at one meeting. The board has to work together, and not just someone getting on with an agenda. You have to look at the board as a whole, not just an individual.

SK: I completely agree that the school board needs to work together. But where I differ is that I see the school board as a group of representatives of their district. It’s not we the board, it’s we the representatives of the district. We are there as school board members to facilitate the business, the actions, the education of the students and everything surrounding the school to achieve that goal. It is definitely not for one person to try to come in and ramrod an agenda, regardless of what that is. Quite a bit of on-the-job training has to be required by any school board member, especially as complicated as things are today. Again, I’ll go back to my statement about looking through the prism of the improvement of the education of every student in the school. That is my philosophy moving forward. There’s no hidden agenda, there’s no open agenda. It is strictly that.

 

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