9 candidates vie for school board seats

A bumper crop of candidates are vying for school board seats.

Islanders have stepped up in force to seek public office in this year’s election, with 26 candidates filing with King County Elections to retain their elected posts or run for a seat on local boards.

Many candidates are running unopposed in races involving eight different taxing districts, but this year’s school board race is an exception to that rule, boasting nine candidates vying to fill four open seats on the board.

A primary on Aug. 4 will winnow the field for one of those school board races — four candidates are running for the seat currently held by longtime board member Zabette Macomber. The general election takes place on Nov. 7.

It is rare to have four open seats for the five-member board on the ballot at one time, as school board members are elected in cohorts of two or three, in cycles separated by two years.

However, this will be the case this year, because two current commissioners, Lucia Armenta and Mariel Thuraisingham, were appointed to their posts, requiring their seats to be on the ballot in the next election cycle. Additionally, two other seats are now occupied by commissioners elected in 2019, Macomber and Toby Holmes, whose terms conclude this year.

Macomber, Holmes, and Thuraisingham all decided not to run in the November election. Current board chair Allison Krutsinger, elected to Position 4 on the board in 2021, is not required to run for re-election this year.

The deadline to file as a candidate was Friday, May 19.

Position 1

Armenta, the board’s vice-chair, will run in an uncontested race to retain her seat.

Armenta was appointed to the board in January, following the resignation of board member Kali Aguilera.

In her short tenure, Armenta has had a seat at the table for consequential decisions, including the district’s settlement agreements with two teachers, John Rees and Kara Sears, who were separately under investigation for much of the school year after accusations that they had groomed students for romantic relationships that begun in the summers after the students had graduated.

Armenta was also part of a unanimous board vote on March 23 for a reduction in force measure proposed by Superintendent Slade McSheehy, aimed at curing a sizeable budget shortfall for the 2023-24 school year. Armenta, a childhood educator who was born and raised in Mexico and moved to the United States in 2000, has taught in Illinois, Seattle and Vashon.

She is the small business owner of Spanish4All, a play-based, Spanish-immersion, outdoors preschool on Vashon. She has also taught for the district’s FamilyLink program and Vashon Green School.

In a statement, Armenta said that she is running for office “because I believe that our children deserve the best education in a safe and inclusive environment where every student can thrive.”

“As a parent of two children, I will work hard to ensure that our schools excel in academics as much as in socio-emotional education,” she added. “As a community leader and business owner, I understand the importance of collaboration and teamwork. I will work to keep building strong relationships between families, teachers and administrative staff to ensure full participation from all parties … My experience as a parent, teacher, business owner, and community leader has prepared me well for this role.”

Position 2

Holly Gilman and Kaycie Alanis have filed as candidates for the position.

In a statement, Gilman said much of her life has been dedicated to education as well as working for the welfare of children.

She taught for 25 years at South Seattle College and was also a long-time summer volunteer at a school in Guatemala that provides education and healthcare for impoverished children. She has volunteered with Chautauqua Elementary School students whose home language is Spanish, she said. For the past four years, she has worked as a King County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) program, assessing and then making recommendations to the court on the specific needs of children in foster care.

Gilman also said she was the mother of a 2008 graduate of Vashon High School and cited a previous district investigation of Rees that took place in 2008 and resulted in his return to the classroom that year.

“My concern here is that no one who had the power to do so acted in the best interest of not only [the students involved] but the ones who followed for 15 years,” she said. “…Therefore, my primary intention to run for the school board is to be an active advocate on the school board for the students. I want them to know they have someone to whom they can bring their worries and ideas and that I will bring them front and center to every board meeting. I am campaigning for intentional and explicit advocacy for students in … every decision the school board makes.”

Alanis, a K-12 certificated teacher, and parent of two school-aged children, has worked with children and teens in the classroom, after school, in an inpatient psychiatric setting, as a teaching artist, and as a youth programming arts administrator.

In a statement, Alanis said that as a school board member, she would would “[listen] deeply to the views, experiences, hopes, and concerns of our island students, families, and district staff,” and keep the community informed by reporting out the ideas, decisions and actions of the board and superintendent.

“As an elected governing body, the school board must oversee and guide the actions of the superintendent based on the needs of the community it serves,” she said. “We have difficult years ahead with budgetary shortfalls, and my aim is to be part of a team that prioritizes our children — the future of our community.”

Position 3

Martha Woodard, Gator Lanphear, Angela Marshall, and River Branch are seeking election for Position 3 on the school board, and will appear on the August ballot in a primary election. The top two vote-getters will face off in the general election.

In a statement, Martha Woodward called public education “the bedrock of our society” and cited her 33-year career as a teacher at Vashon High School, as well as her experience as a board member of Partners in Education (PIE), a community organization that has helped support teachers in the district for decades.

Calling funding “a perennial challenge … mostly due to how our state allocates money,” Woodard said that as a former negotiator for the Vashon Education Association, she was well acquainted with the issue.

“Because funding is always tight, the process of where and how we spend district funds requires careful consideration, intense listening, flexibility and gathering information from the people affected by the School Board’s decisions,” she said, pledging to meet those requirements.

Community support of the district, she said, “depends on [the] belief that the leadership in the school system is effective and responsive.” She said she would strive “to be open-minded, to operate without a preconceived agenda to work hard and to do [her] best” as a school board member.

Gator Lanphear, in a statement, said he wanted to create “a safe, equitable and inclusive school district that focuses on the learners, educators, staff, and community of the Vashon Island schools.”

He cited his experience as an educator, parent and volunteer as having given him “great knowledge and awareness of the different experiences of educators, staff and our children.”

Lanphear is a credentialed teacher in art and elementary education, with a master’s degree in instructional science and technology. He has worked as an elementary school teacher at Chautauqua Elementary, the Tacoma Public Schools, and the Sacramento City School District.

Lanphear also served on the City of Tacoma’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, creating policies for the city, and worked as a K-12 educator and artist for the City of Tacoma’s Office of Environmental Policy and Sustainability.

Angela Marshall and her husband have resided on Vashon for seven-and-a-half years, and have two children who are students at Chautauqua Elementary.

She is the deputy director of King County’s Labor Relationship office. In a statement, she cited her experience in public policy, transparent government principles, and collaborative employee and labor relations.

“I am regularly tasked with the challenge of making sustainable and responsible decisions as a steward of public funds, while also delivering continuous improvement measures in ways that make a meaningful impact to King County residents,” she said.

Marshall said she was inspired to run for school board “after observing a blurring of healthy boundaries over the years between the functions of the board and district administration.”

“It’s the board’s role to set direction for the district, and it’s the Superintendent’s role to carry out that direction,” she said. “We need our school board directors to boldly take on that role and lead with principled and defensible decisions. I can, and will do that.”

Marshall’s statement criticized recent decisions made by the district.

“Too many times we have seen the current administration, with board concurrence, operate in an unaccountable manner by sweeping serious issues under the rug, leaving problems deeply unresolved,” she said. “Misplaced priorities and risk aversion at the expense of our children’s safety and education have fostered a deep mistrust of our institution.”

“I can make difficult decisions and recognize when challenging the status quo is needed,” she said.

Marshall also promised to be accountable and transparent in her actions as a board member while representing the interests of educators, students, and families.

River Branch, in a statement, said, “As someone who has worked in the field of education for over 25 years, I have successfully brought strategic thinking, creative problem solving and vision to educational institutions in times of challenge. On Vashon, we can better support our educators and manifest our best vision of our schools.”

“It is my belief that we are at a critical juncture,” she added. “With budget cuts, learning challenges compounded in the wake of the pandemic, and profound difficulties shaking the trust and integrity of our learning community— we must commit to practices and policies that rebuild and re-instill a core trust moving forward. At a recent [school board] meeting I asked students about their concerns. They spoke about a fear of safety in our schools. Physical, psychological and emotional safety must exist in order for students and educators to thrive. The path forward must be carved with dedication, transparency, access and accountability.”

Position 5

Jake Jacobovitch and Juniper Rogneby are vying for Position 5 on the school board.

Jacobovitch is a 46-year island resident whose five children and seven grandchildren have attended Vashon schools. “Providing our children with what they need to grow to their fullest potential is of the utmost importance to me,” he said.

In a statement, he cited his prior service on community boards including the school board, Vashon Park District, Vashon-Maury Community Council, VIJB Basketball, Vashon Youth Baseball and Washington State Ferries’ Vashon advisory committee, and more.

“When I ended my service on the School Board in 2007, I felt that I left the school district with many improvements in policies, budget, hiring and firing, curriculum alignment, highly capable program, capital improvements, communications and interactive processes with the community, to name a few,” he said. “If elected in November, I will have more school board director experience than the other four school board directors combined,” he added.

Rogneby is a human resources consultant and facilitator who works to support organizations and individuals in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. She is an active community volunteer and has two children who attend district schools.

In a statement, Rogneby said she is particularly passionate about addressing the needs of those students furthest from educational justice and equity. She is running for Position 5 to increase the school board’s transparency, community trust, and integrity, she said.