NK school board candidates debate many issues

The League of Women Voters-Kitsap recently held a candidate forum for North Kitsap School Board Districts 2 and 5.

The candidates for District 2 are Mike Desmond (incumbent), Natasha Fecteau Minger and Drew McDonald. The candidates for District 5 are Barbara Waggoner (incumbent), Stacey Mills and Melanie Miller.

The candidates answered a range of questions regarding diversity and inclusiveness in schools, the no-confidence vote from the teachers union, the relationship with the two local tribes and the format of school board meetings.

As for board meetings, Fecteau Minger wants to relook at the process of allowing people to speak. “I think the process for signing up is inequitable so making changes to that will allow more people to come,” she said. “I also believe we could have advisory boards and committees. On those committees are stakeholders. The conversations aren’t always easy but that’s where real relationships are created.”

Miller said face-to-face communication is how you build relationships “especially in situations where there’s a lack of trust. I don’t know that we’re doing that very well. It builds trust if we understand your thought processes.”

Waggoner said there’s a public perception that the district is hiding certain things, but that’s not the intention of the board. “I think we’re actually deliberately working very hard in preparation for the meetings. The perception is that it’s secretive. I would like to fix that.”

The second question was about an inclusive and diverse school climate.

“I think the diversity in our community is what makes our community great because there are so many different backgrounds and cultures and perspectives represented here,” McDonald said. “I would have people present what makes their culture unique so people understand…so that it’s not just a story from a page of a book. That way we can have an understanding before the tough conversations.”

Desmond said the district needs to keep investing in social-emotional learning curriculum. “I think the key is fostering and celebrating the students’ voice,” he said. “If an issue occurs, that’s where it’s going to be solved. I think it’s important we celebrate and listen to those students, and we value their feedback and make changes based on that.”

Mills said it’s important the district comes across very strongly that they have zero tolerance for harassment, bullying or discrimination. Miller said the students need to see themselves in the curriculum.

“In our classrooms, children need to be able to see themselves in our curriculum and environment,” she said. “There needs to be books that show kids with brown skin and kids that have two mothers or two fathers.”

As for strengthening the relationship with the Suquamish and Port Gamble S’Klallam tribes, McDonald said: “The tribes are more than happy to share their culture, space and time. They are so generous with that. I would like to see us go to the tribes and meet with them in their cultural centers. Let’s show the non-tribal community that this tribal history is so rich and important and makes our region unique and special.”

Desmond pointed out that there are also students in other tribes in the district. He said the district has a government-to-government relationship with both Suquamish and PGST and both also have liaisons to the district. “I think it’s important that we continue to partner with them, listen to them and make changes,” he said.

A question about if school board meetings should be recorded for later viewing had a near consensus among the candidates.

McDonald said putting them on YouTube would be an easy way for people to view the meeting. “It will be easy to see who knew what, who said what, when was that done, and how did they say it,” he said.

The last question was regarding the no-confidence vote from the teachers union and how the candidates would go about communicating with teachers.

“A good number of our teachers are residents and parents as well. We definitely want to know what they have to say,” McDonald said.

Miller agreed but wanted to know what the right approach would be. “I’d like to know their ideas on how they’d like to engage with the board. I want that relationship to be strong. If the teachers are not feeling supported, and there’s a problem, it has an impact on our kids.”

In her closing statement, Fecteau Minger addressed her felony drug charge from 2002 when she spent eight months in prison. She said she’s been clean for seven years and has been working on her recovery for over 10 years. “It does not define me, and I am excited to serve my community,” she said.