Plenty of competitors seeking two SKSD board positions

Ten candidates running for open director seats

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PORT ORCHARD — The races to select replacements for the two open South Kitsap School District board of directors positions this fall will offer voters a crowded primary election ballot Aug. 3.

The terms for directors Liz Sebren, District 3, and Rebecca Diehl, District 4, are ending with the incumbents declining to run for reelection. Vying to replace them are 10 candidates that hail from a variety of backgrounds.

The Port Orchard Independent asked each candidate to answer questions concerning their candidacy and what skills and perspectives they would bring to the board if elected. Here are their responses. An expanded recounting appears in Kitsap Daily News. Candidate responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

DISTRICT 3 CANDIDATES

ANNA SCHROEDER

Anna Schroeder

Anna Schroeder

A lifelong resident of Port Orchard, Anna Schroeder attended South Kitsap schools. Now with two children enrolled here and a husband who teaches for the district, she said she is invested in making sure South Kitsap schools are the best they can be. As the only woman running for election, Schroeder said she would bring the perspective of a working mother, with kids in the school system, to the school board.

As a neurotrauma ICU nurse in Tacoma at St. Joseph Medical Center, Schroeder said she knows a thing or two about practical solutions to big problems. Schroeder has two bachelor’s degrees, one she earned online in 2020 and another in music performance, theory and composition from Eastern Washington University. She also completed her associate degree in nursing at Olympic College. She continues to be involved in music, volunteering with the Bremerton Symphony and previously playing with the Kitsap Opera.

Why are you running for a seat on SKSD’s board of directors?

“I haven’t been thrilled with the school board over the last couple of years … My husband is a teacher and I’ve always been aware of what they’ve been doing and some of the decisions they’ve been making. And then with my own kids in school, I’ve paid more attention to their policies.

This past year, I was not very impressed with the decisions they were making and the leadership they were giving people … I don’t like this kind of pervasive attitude [of] ‘We don’t deserve the best for our students … in our community,’ because we do. And not only for ourselves now, but also for our children so that they can grow up and have the opportunities to do what they want to do and contribute back into our community … Let’s build ourselves up and make ourselves the best we can be.”

What skillset would you bring to the board?

“I think the best thing that I can bring is that I’m very pragmatic and I’m very solution-focused … I want to find a solution … I don’t do drama. I don’t do interpersonal conflicts. [I want] to get back on task and do our stuff. I have no issues like that, which I think would have helped the contention on the school board a little bit, if there was somebody who was a little more aggressive that way. Let’s listen to everybody involved and make the best decision and let’s do it in the most efficient, most professional way possible.”

What is SKSD’s greatest challenge?

“For me, I think the greatest challenge the school district’s going to have is getting the trust and support of all of the voters. Because again, I feel it’s very polarized where people are either a hundred percent for the district, or they’re like, ‘No, these people are wasting money and just don’t make good decisions, this isn’t what we need.’ And there’s not a lot of middle ground … The school board and the teachers’ union and the taxpayers, we’re not three adversaries that are fighting each other.

What the school board is supposed to do is facilitate using the taxpayer resources that we get and listening to their needs … and then using it to attract and support the best teachers that we can have so that everything flows smoothly. Being very open and honest with what’s happening, being efficient and professional, which I feel the school board has really struggled with, particularly this last year, in how they interact with each other and the decisions that they make.”

What is SKSD’s greatest facilities need?

“If we could pass a bond to get another high school, that would be fantastic. But I think it’s also the facilities that we have right now … We need to go through and be like, okay, ‘What kind of learning environment are we having for our kids?’ We need to set up a long-term plan to look at the buildings we have and [decide], ‘We might need to actually tear down this building and build a new one,’ like a new elementary school with new facilities, especially as we start adding in new technology.

BRIAN PICKARD

Brian Pickard

Brian Pickard

Brian Pickard began working at the South Kitsap School District in 1987 as an assistant principal at Orchard Heights Elementary. He then went on to be the principal of South Colby Elementary for 23 years before filling the role as the district’s executive director of schools and family support for three years before retiring in 2018.

Both of Pickard’s children are South Kitsap school graduates. Pickard has in the past served on the board of the Elementary School Principals Association of Washington in each of its executive positions.

Why are you running for a seat on SKSD’s board of directors?

“I see a need that I believe strongly that I can fill. I think it’s important that there be the perspective of at least one individual on a school board [who has] the experience of working in the schools, knowing what it takes, all the ins and outs, knows the process, knows what impact different decisions make right there in the school setting. That’s where the proverbial ‘rubber hits the road.’ I have the leadership skills. I’ve been on a variety of boards. Right now, I’m on the South Kitsap Helpline food bank board … The reason that I’m doing this is that I care deeply. I still care — even after being retired for three years — I care deeply for the kids in this community [and] what their needs are.”

What skillset would you bring to the board?

“My ability to communicate. I seek to understand things first before [saying], ‘Okay, well, now you have to listen to me.’ That’s not the way I operate. I like to be able to listen and really hear what other people are saying. So seeking to understand before being understood is the statement that I use. I believe I have a unique ability to connect with and work with all people, all ages, all backgrounds, all different perspectives. And I actually seek out people that have different opinions and ideas than I do. I think that’s important in making well-rounded decisions — to fully grasp the concepts or the ideas that people have or that need to be taken into account before decisions are made. Collaboration is so critical: getting along with people, even those that you don’t agree with, but obviously bringing people together. And I’ve done that and will continue to do that on the board.”

What is SKSD’s greatest challenge?

“There’s a number of things. One is academic achievement for kids. Now, that means a lot of different things. The challenge of keeping kids learning and understanding — and learning how to learn — it’s ever-changing. Also important are our facilities. There’s currently a task force working on that and taking a look at what do we do. At some point, band-aids and duct tape and baling wire won’t do the trick. And then another one is, of course, financial. To do all of this takes funds. And we have to take a look at what’s available — federal, state and local funds. We need to take a look at grants. We need to take a look at different sources [such as partnerships]. And South Kitsap has done that. We need to do more. To me, those are the three biggies. But there are other things that go along with that. In all of those things is the equity in what’s available, equity in the school facilities, equity in academics and opportunities …”

What is SKSD’s greatest facilities need?

“There’s always the ongoing upkeep that I think people forget about. There’s so much more infrastructure that’s needed in today’s schools. In some schools, that’s easier to do than others … I also think we need to take a look at new facilities. We have some very overcrowded places. I’ll use the example of South Colby. It’s not overcrowded right now, the numbers are lower than they have been in the past 10, 15 years or so, but at the same time, the building is so old and antiquated, something needs to be done there. And that’s just one example. The high school, of course, is the big issue. We’ve attempted to pass a number of bonds over the years. I’ve been a huge supporter of passing those bonds and I’ve been disappointed when that hasn’t happened. I think we need to take a look at it. I believe that this current facilities committee is going to come out with some interesting recommendations. I still believe a second high school is needed.”

CHRISTOPHER LEMKE

Christopher Lemke

Christopher Lemke

Former school board director Christopher Lemke is a retired civil service employee of 39 years and a graduate of Olympic College. He and his wife have lived in the Port Orchard community for 35 years. He is the father of four daughters, all of whom are South Kitsap graduates. In his free time, he is an ultramarathon runner.

Lemke previously served on the school board for 12 years over three terms and has served in PTA positions across the district.

Why are you running for a seat on SKSD’s board of directors?

“The board and a brand new superintendent are struggling, for the most part, because of inexperience. Between the superintendent and the three existing school board members, there are less than 10 years of experience. What I would offer [is] previous service, knowledge of the community and having worked within a school system for over 30 years. I have trained new school board members, I bring leadership and I also have worked with four other superintendents during those 12 years. I can bring stability and knowledge of our community to the South Kitsap School District.”

What skillset would you bring to the board?

“I think a skill set I would bring to the board is having served on a board for 12 years, I know how a five-member board should work together as a team, come up with consensus and also work well with the superintendent (who is the board’s only employee) and let the superintendent lead the district. I also bring the knowledge of running levy and bond campaigns, working with the state Legislature for educational reasons or goals. And the other thing I would bring to the board is having been a graduate of the Washington State School Directors Leadership class. I hope to solidify the board and bring togetherness because right now, there’s a struggle among the board members to accomplish the goal of doing what’s right for our kids.”

What is SKSD’s greatest challenge?

“I guess if there’s only going to be one, I guess it would be the superintendent and the school board working together, doing what’s best for kids. If I could throw in a second, it would be recovering from COVID-19 and recovering the student loss … We need to bring the students back. After this COVID-19 year, the student population is way down and without students, the district will struggle for financial stability.”

What is SKSD’s greatest facilities need?

“The school district has dropped from over 11,680 students down to 8,900, [below the] capacity within the district. So within the capacity, then it’s making sure each and every facility is the very best it can be to create a creative learning environment for all the students and make sure it’s as safe as it can be. As the population grows, there’s going to be a need out there for a second high school, but it’d be very hard to build a second high school now, knowing we’ve dropped that much in student enrollment across the district. The last time a bond passed, we built three identical elementary schools. That’s about 25 or 26 years ago, but [we could utilize] the same model three times with the same footprint so we have three really good elementary schools. There are some elementary schools, for example, like South Colby [that by] lowering student enrollment, you could maybe rebuild that school. The school district has property right next door for a brand new facility to get the kids out of the portable classrooms.”

DAVE BURK

Dave Burk

Dave Burk

Dave Burk moved to Port Orchard in the 1990s and built his first home here. He said he loves the community, which is why he is running for the position.

Born in Tacoma, Burk graduated from the Local 82 apprenticeship program and is a journeyman plumber. He currently is the president of his business, Burk Mechanical, which he started after getting his plumbing license and working as a superintendent for a major mechanical contractor.

Burk founded and runs Opportunities for Disadvantaged Persons Program in the community, which, according to the voters’ pamphlet, “aims to hire young adults who have been underprivileged and underserved most of their lives.”

Why are you running for a seat on SKSD’s board of directors?

“Because I love kids and I care about kids and I want to make sure that they’re represented. I know that a lot of kids aren’t going to college, so I want to make sure that there’s someone that’s going to represent them and the different programs that are available. I want to make sure that the school board has all the support it needs to produce the kids that we want to see come out of the South Kitsap School District. I have a little bit [of a] different experience going to school. I didn’t graduate from high school but I got into the trade schools and then graduated from an apprenticeship program at Local 82 in Tacoma, got a plumbing license and became a superintendent for a major mechanical contractor in the area. And then I started my own business. So there’s lots of different ways kids can be successful.”

What skillset would you bring to the board?

“I’ve done school construction for the last 25 years. So I’ve worked with the school district in implementing their construction programs on the actual construction side. So I see some of the needs they have and want to make sure we have the facilities our children are going to need for the 21st century.”

What is SKSD’s greatest challenge?

“I think it’s maintaining public support if you want to build new schools, have new levies pass, and have teachers compensated correctly. Our teachers are one of our most valuable assets in the community. And if you want to make sure that they’re compensated correctly, you have to have good public support. Port Orchard and South Kitsap have great pride in their schools and in their community. I want to make sure it stays that way.”

What is SKSD’s greatest facilities need?

“Well, it’s pretty controversial, but I want to make sure that they have enough buildings. And so I want to make sure that kids are represented on the school board and make sure that we have the buildings that are necessary for the 21st century. I want to make sure that if we need new construction, that there’s someone there that’s done construction of new, 21st century schools and then make sure that the schools that we have, or either remodeled or the assets are available to bring them up to the 21st century … There’s a lot to schools that a lot of administrators don’t always take into consideration. We want a good environment for the kids to learn in, just make sure your schools are healthy.”

HERBERT WILLETT

Herbert Willett

Herbert Willett

Herbert Willett is a recently retired engineer who says he wants to give back to the community.

Both of Willett’s children graduated from South Kitsap schools. His son is a JAG officer in the Air Force and his daughter is working on her externship for a master’s degree in speech pathology. He has supported South Kitsap Pee Wee football, and Jaguar and South Kitsap track and field.

While in Baltimore, Willett worked for a company that adopted a middle school program, where he saw how guidance and support for students can help them flourish. Willett said he believes that everyone learns differently, which is an important concept in education.

Why are you running for a seat on SKSD’s board of directors?

“I think that the way we’re headed in a more political [direction rather than] considering what’s the best things for the kids. If we put the kids in front of our mind, then we will do the right thing for the school system. I believe kids are our future … I’m a believer that there’s a system already in place. You just can’t walk into it and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to change the system.’ You need to understand it and see what it’s doing. And then you do things to change the system, to work for the best of the kid.”

What skillset would you bring to the board?

“I have an engineering background, so I’m pretty detailed. I’m open-minded.

What is SKSD’s greatest challenge?

“The district’s greatest challenge right now is to overcome the COVID-19 epidemic … Their challenge is to recoup, get back what they lost during that period of time. Now I feel it’s going to take a lot more from the teachers, as well as the parents to get their kids back to where they are. And once you get that, you have to prepare just in case that you’re not going to be in a classroom because we live in a dynamic world. It’s not that stable … If we have to get back to that point again, that there’s continuity and we don’t lose anything. So we should be prepared for almost anything because you never can tell, COVID may just show itself again … and we should prepare for that.”

What is SKSD’s greatest facilities need?

“I would say they need the high school and they haven’t passed the levy since Deb Cheney was there. That’s been a few years back. And the question is, ‘How do you get this bond to get this money to do the things for our kids?’ … And that’s what we need to do. We need to advocate for our kids.”

(Correction: In the July 16 print edition of the Port Orchard Independent in which an edited version of this story appeared, Herbert Willett’s last name was misspelled.)

LANCE YOHE

Lance Yohe

Lance Yohe

Three generations of Lance Yohe’s family have attended South Kitsap schools — his children, his wife and her parents are all SK graduates.

Yohe himself has been a resident of Port Orchard for more than 25 years. His wife is a teacher in the district and he works as a supply chain manager for Navy Facilities Engineering Systems Command. He is a veteran who served 21 years of active duty in the Navy.

Why are you running for a seat on SKSD’s board of directors?

“I was asked to on several occasions. Quite ironically, the first person to ask me to run for the school board somewhere around 2012, 2013 was Mr. Chris Lemke, who at the time asked me when I was sitting on the budget advisory committee for the school. That committee was a direct result of when the school was basically put on probation from the state superintendent’s office [due to] its fund balance being extremely low. I presented the committee’s findings to the school board. A couple of members of the board found them challenging to hear. They later conceded that it wasn’t what they wanted to hear, but it was what they needed to hear — and one of those was Mr. Lemke.”

What skillset would you bring to the board?

“I think the skillset that I bring to the board are those areas that a non-educator would bring. I bring a substantial amount of government experience of working in the federal government and working with state and local government. I bring real-world experience from 21 years of active duty, traveling, visiting many countries, seeing how things are done, even doing volunteer work overseas on those trips at various schools, and seeing how those schools are being done. And perhaps more concretely, the work of sitting on the committees and getting educated on the issues that the district is facing, whatever that is.”

What is SKSD’s greatest challenge?

“I think the district’s greatest challenge is facility-related — and it’s the impact of the housing boom. Development is coming and, even if you took a guesstimate — say 5,500 permits for single-family homes and only 25% of those had school-age children — that’s 1,200 or 1,300 kids that the district has to absorb. And the district can’t absorb that without a significant impact. Our current facilities cannot do that. Then you have other effects of that on curriculum — more, books, more chairs, more desks, more teachers. It starts with an increase in the population in Port Orchard that is coming over the next decade.”

What is SKSD’s greatest facilities need?

“That’s actually what we’re exploring right now. [The long-range facility planning committee has] toured every single school … What we’re finding is that there’s a multitude of issues with our facilities that run from cosmetic and minor maintenance and upgrades, to medium type upgrades to seriously deficient stuff, such as electrical load issues, and sinking buildings. So to answer that question, honestly, you’re going to have to ask me in about three months. We are now evaluating the data. So we’re looking at data that the state has provided us from an independent contractor who has examined all the facilities and graded them. We’re making our own assessments, as well. We’re looking at all the facilities and ranking which ones that we would recommend for replacements, which ones we recommend for major issues and those that we recommend for minor issues. But they run the gamut and all are in definite need of repair.

MIKE ESLAVA

South Kitsap Fire and Rescue fire commissioner Mike Eslava has been actively involved in South Kitsap schools for years as a student, parent to three students and as a grandfather to current SK students. Through his involvement at Olalla elementary, Eslava said he helped to make the road between the school and the nearby park private, making it safer for students to access.

Eslava has been a firefighter for South Kitsap Fire and Rescue for more than 32 years, before which he was a volunteer with the district. If elected into the position, Eslava said he sees it as an opportunity to make a difference.

Why are you running for a seat on SKSD’s board of directors?

“The article in the Sun that showed that they were totally dysfunctional and not functioning in the best interest of nourishing our best resources … to train and make future opportunities for the kids in schools. I had been tossing [around] the idea in the past [of running]. And after that article, it just kind of prompted that our kids need better than that kind of representation. As adults, we need to show them, teach by example, lead our kids and make them do the things that that are right.”

What skillset would you bring to the board?

“I have a leadership ability. I was a fire officer, I was a paramedic with the fire department. I was able to coerce patients to do exactly what I wanted to … I lead by example and when I delegate something to someone, I give them the range, the power, the authority to carry on and do it the best that they possibly can. And if I don’t think it’s right afterward, or if they ask for help, I will coach them into a better solution. Or a simpler solution. And I’m really full of energy.”

What is SKSD’s greatest challenge?

“The things that they’re struggling with right now is transparency, goals, objectives, ideals, openness, their spending habits, the direction [the school board is heading] right now. You could go through the pandemic and the way that they functioned on that and so on with that, but they did the best they could do, and they didn’t know what to do other than that. It was a learning experience for everyone.”

What is SKSD’s greatest facilities need?

“We have two grade schools, Olalla and South Colby, that are in dire straits. During the winter, it’s cold, the heaters don’t keep up to the temperatures. And then during the summer, it’s so hot that the teachers have to leave their doors open. And in fact, that’s a fire safety issue. If we had a fire out there, it would spread so quickly into the classrooms … We need to look at [the consideration of a new high school] because our students attending schools have dropped significantly this year. [Look at] what’s going on. [Why] are they dropping? … Are we going to continue to see this loss of students? And if the school board doesn’t get it together, I think we will. “

DISTRICT 4 CANDIDATES

GREGG ANDERSON

Gregg Anderson

Gregg Anderson

All four of Gregg Anderson’s children have attended South Kitsap schools — two have graduated and two are in middle school. Anderson currently works as a Department of Defense contractor employee.

Why are you running for a seat on SKSD’s board of directors?

“I thought it would be a good idea to get more involved in what was happening in particular with the schools. Come to find out, the school position for my district was open … and here we are.”

What skillset would you bring to the board?

“With this particular board at this juncture, it seems like there needs to be someone with a level head. And by that I mean, I will take all the information and make a decision based on that rather than what seems like snap decisions made at the spur of the moment.”

What is SKSD’s greatest challenge?

“There are two things. The first is a disconnect within the school board itself. The infighting seems to be hindering their ability to do what they’re supposed to be doing. And then the other thing that I’ve been getting emails about is the critical race theory or inclusion … There seems to be a lot of people that are concerned about transgender issues. Just based on the amount of emails I’ve gotten about that, that seems to be a thing that’s at the forefront of people’s minds. I don’t know if I could call them challenges but it’s something that will have to be figured out one way or the other … The problem with that is both of those are still very divisive. You’re not going to make everyone happy, no matter which way you go on that. And that’s going to present a challenge because whether or not you agree with whatever the school board decides, you’re going to have people that think strongly the opposite direction.”

What is SKSD’s greatest facilities need?

“I think that there is a chasm between, in particular, the middle schools. I think Cedar [Heights] is kind of lagging behind, for whatever reason. It may have changed since [when] I had girls that went there, but I know it wasn’t the greatest when they were there. And then having seen the way Marcus [Whitman] is, it just seems like … [Cedar is] kind of the stepchild of at least the middle schools [in the] South Kitsap school system.”

JEFFREY “JEFé” WILSON

Jeffrey (Jefe) Wilson

Jeffrey (Jefe) Wilson

Jeffrey “Jefé” Wilson is a senior executive advisor at Boeing. He is an organizational psychologist by trade and got his doctorate in organizational psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology.

Wilson attended South Kitsap schools for most of his school years, graduating from South Kitsap High School. His wife is a teacher for the district. Wilson has four children, two of whom currently attend South Kitsap schools, and the other two graduated from the University of Washington and Washington State University, respectively.

“My intentions [for being on the board] are really to put students and their needs first, to invest in that and invest in our community,” Wilson said. “And then really get the board’s focus back on education and off of politics.”

Wilson has been endorsed by the Washington Education Association PAC (State Teachers Union), the South Kitsap Education Association, Kitsap County Democratic Women, and Port Orchard Mayor Rob Putaansuu.

Why are you running for a seat on SKSD’s board of directors?

“Right now, long-term wise, South Kitsap hasn’t been able to pass a school bond for a long time. Our community is growing and we desperately need a remodel of the high school, at least one junior high, and probably a couple of elementary schools just as starters. And it frustrated me that we haven’t been able to put together a proposal that all the community can get behind.

“Particularly in the last couple of years, it’s been outrageous to me what’s been going on with the school board. We’ve got a few people in there with some very wacky political ideas who seem to be bringing in their own political agendas — and I’m not convinced they’re actually working to help the school district. In fact, it seems like they’re trying to destroy it. I want to get in there and bring some rational thought, get the focus back on the kids and the teachers, get back the focus on facilities and stop playing these stupid political games.”

What skillset would you bring to the board?

“My doctorate is in organizational psychology. I’ve worked with teams in corporations, some of them dysfunctional, some volunteer teams, executive teams … I bring a good skill set in terms of how to work with a variety of people on how to get the best out of teams. While I won’t be consulting the board, I’ll be part of it. I think I can bring that skill set on how to bring a team together and get the most of it. Individually, school board directors don’t have any power at all. They have to come together, form a quorum and work together [for] a common purpose.”

What is SKSD’s greatest challenge?

“Number one is kind of what I talked about with facilities: a revamp and reinvestment in the facilities … We’ve obviously lost a lot of students to homeschooling, virtual schooling and other districts because of our inability to pass those bonds. So I really think that that’s sort of number one. And then make sure that we don’t do any cuts in programs for students or funds for teachers, and we continue to invest. I want to get back to focusing on providing a better environment. We need a great learning environment with lots of different choices. Whether they’re going to go on to college or whether they want to go into the workforce or the military, [we need to] make sure that they’re well-prepared to do that, that they’re graduating with a good solid foundation and then have great opportunities for them in the future. And then hopefully come back and ultimately raise their families here as I did.”

What is SKSD’s greatest facilities need?

“A couple of things. The high school is in need of a revamp. They tried to get a second high school passed a couple of times, so that’s not going to work. I think we need one proposal for a new or remodeled high school … We definitely need one new junior high. Cedar Heights has been sinking into the ground actually for 40 years now, since when I went there as a kid … We probably need to replace that and then a couple of elementary schools. We need to put together a bond package that the entire community can get behind …”

JOE TRENT

Candidate Joe Trent could not be reached for comment.

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