A call for candidates with a heart for service

Our community deserves serious candidates to serve on our school board who are able to find visionary solutions to propel the district forward.

It was a moving experience, last week, to attend a special school board meeting held to select one of four applicants to fill an empty Vashon Island School District (VISD) school board seat.

The applicants all spoke of their willingness to serve as directors of the school board — a difficult and very public job that requires expertise in any number of areas, including school budgeting, curricular challenges, human relations issues, and most of all, deep commitment to ensuring a process of effective and equitable public education for all our island’s young people.

The job also, of course, includes oversight of one the most highly paid public servants on Vashon — the board is the school superintendent’s boss, ensuring that the person hired for the job is effectively leading the district.

It was heartening to witness the board’s choice of Lucia Armenta — a bilingual childhood educator whose interest in joining the board, she said, came from her goal to create stronger ties between the school board and the community.

Armenta, when asked by current board member, Zabette Macomber, how she would handle criticism by some members of the public, and persuasion by others, said a beautiful thing: that in response to criticism, she found an opportunity for growth, and in persuasion, she found an opportunity to listen.

What wisdom.

But all of the applicants brought strength and passion to the table, in their interviews with the board, and said beautiful things.

Juniper Rogneby, who has lived on Vashon since 2012 and has three children who have attended district schools as well as Student Link, spoke of her unwavering commitment to centering the principle of strong racial equity in all facets of VISD policy and budgeting decisions.

Another applicant, Gavin Watson, spoke about the problem-solving and consensus-building skills honed in his corporate career and said that he wanted to use these skills to serve the community in a time of unprecedented challenges to the school district.

The fourth applicant, Craig Klinkam — who recently retired after a career as the owner of his own company, which provided clients with construction management and owner-representation services on construction projects — shared stories of the joys he had found in public service, as a volunteer to worthy causes including the Vashon Schools Foundation and Habitat for Humanity.

Here at The Beachcomber, we’d like to echo the call of VISD Board Chair, Toby Holmes — who after Armenta’s selection, also urged Rogneby, Watson and Klinkam to consider throwing their hats in the ring for November’s upcoming election to fill four open seats on the board.

We hope other islanders will consider entering the race, creating a robust slate of candidates that give islanders a real say in terms of who sits on our school board.

The 2021 contest, for two open seats, did not give islanders many choices — with Allison Krutsinger running unopposed for one seat after another candidate announced she did not want to serve.

The sole candidate for the other open seat in 2021 also announced that she would not serve, resulting in the appointment of Mariel Thuraisingham to the board in January 2022.

Our school district is indeed now facing unprecedented challenges, as the board will soon receive recommendations from the superintendent on how a solvency and sustainability plan for the district’s 2023-24 school year will be implemented.

It is possible these recommendations will include another reduction in force among staff, as well as other changes including larger class sizes.

Right now, more than ever, our community — including island youth whose futures depend on the quality of their education — deserves serious candidates to serve on our school board, who are able to find visionary solutions to propel the district forward.

Candidates who, like Armenta, are willing to both grow and listen as they do their work.