This November 7th, three Snoqualmie Valley School Board positions are on the ballot (two unopposed), including Position 2, currently held by Geoff Doy. Linda Grez and Judith Milstein are running for this position.
Although candidates must reside within their director district boundaries to run for the position, ALL Snoqualmie Valley School District registered voters cast ballots in each school board race.
We asked Linda and Judith three questions (submitted by current and former parents in the SVSD District), and they both graciously submitted their answers to help voters understand their positions and priorities.
Ballots for the November 7th General Election will be mailed tomorrow. They must be dropped at a ballot drop box or postmarked by election day.
[The articles will be run in order of which answers were returned to Living Snoqualmie. Below are the unedited answers for Linda Grez]
Question 1: What weakness do you see within the district, and what steps would you take to correct it? So many paint the district as perfect, but it does have some room to grow; as a parent, I want to know that whoever I am voting for understands that the district can be good and still has things it needs to work on and that whoever I am voting for understands at least a general direction they need to steer to strengthen those weaknesses.
Before I answer about shortcomings, let me say my recent grad daughter (Class of 2023) received an overall excellent academic education at SVSD schools. Of course, there were struggles at times but the high quality of teaching and classes was excellent. I’ve always been a strong supporter of public schools and our experience reinforced that.
A ’growth mindset’ where you face challenges with resilience, knowing that even failures can be springboards for growth, is helpful to everyone, not just students. Anyone, including the District and School Board Directors, can adopt it. To make improvements and grow, honest assessments must be made to describe a problem and consequences. Creating a culture of honest feedback without fear is step one. Here the District can definitely improve. There are challenges to getting there. Parents sometimes don’t have access to information and insight about processes to even know what questions to ask or what help they should expect. For instance, many parents rely on outside help to know whether their child qualifies for an IEP (individualized Education Program) due to special needs, and how to keep that program in use by teachers and administrators.
Parents are also often shy about ‘rocking the boat’ out of fear that their kids will suffer negative consequences and sometimes their kids are the ones afraid to speak out or ask for help. Asking for help makes one feel vulnerable and no one likes to be labeled as a ‘detractor’ for identifying shortcomings. This can build up to a boiling point of frustration. Many students have different needs and learning styles and we should work with them where they are, not try to make all kids fit into the same ‘hole.’ Parents sometimes find the systemic challenges are exhausting.
Making the District’s programs, priorities and budget more transparent will be the first step in having a dialogue with the community. There are ways to connect us using modern methods to let parents know the big picture long term issues in advance. Providing the massive spreadsheets of the District Budget with a narrative form in words explaining what it contains would allow families to understand more. Families have little no advance opportunity to see what is in or out of the budget each year aside from high-level presentations that don’t provide enough detail to understand.
During the pandemic in 2021, I attended and summarized every school board meeting to share what was happening and how it fit in the big picture. I published these summaries in Living Snoqualmie Blog. I learned about the responsibilities and rules the district has to follow (as well as how difficult it was to get detailed information to piece it together).
As many of you know I spoke out and objected to the handling of the sudden termination of our previous superintendent as I felt the post-settlement personal attacks on Dr. Gibbon were unprofessional, damaging to his future employment opportunities and unkind. I disliked having to call out the situation – it has always been my goal to avoid making disparaging comments that lower people’s opinions about our District. Public confidence and faith in government is already low and as that worsens our most important civil institutions wither and die. To me, speaking out was necessary to the long-term health of our district. In my opinion, it was excessive to criticize the Superintendent’s professional commitment to educations, especially after a settlement agreement. It might deter future candidates from applying here knowing that people occasionally get ‘thrown under the bus.’ Many people privately thanked me because they felt afraid to speak out themselves. I was labeled as a ‘detractor’ for daring to speak out.
Not long afterwards, it got worse. We learned that the settlement agreement would cost the District $600,000 to pay off the Superintendent’s contract yet there had been no ‘cause’ found for termination. $600,000 roughly equates to 6 full-time teaching positions for a year. We are paying the settlement from our operating budget and staffing changes have resulted.
Lastly the District put on a Superintendent Selection Process which involved no actual searching but a show of public input on leadership in general. Many families were further disappointed. I do not regret asking the difficult questions and speaking out about the situation, because it is very important for the long-term success of our district that we learn from this, but it is sad that it happened.
My experience as an elected Si View Park District Commissioner taught me that you can have a productive dialogue with your stakeholder community members and that builds trust and confidence. It takes work, perseverance, and regular and well-crafted communications and surveys in multiple channels to solicit valuable information about what people care about and think. The District has made progress in adopting Parent Square, consolidating much of the info parents need day-to-day, but they need to work on 2-way communication about long-term, in-depth strategic goals and targets. This would build trust needed to make progress as a whole community. Honest assessment of strengths and weaknesses should be embedded in every District responsibility. This also includes public feedback and honesty with 20-20 hindsight. The School Board should conduct regular public self-assessments.
Only when there is clarity around problems can we see what can be improved, so we can work together to make it happen.
Question 2: How will you ensure you are representing the wishes of the voters, the staff and the students when making decisions while at the same time ensuring you are using good research and best practice? An example of a bad decision was having a freshman campus for example.
Asking the right questions to test assumptions and rationales before commitments are made is critically important. Challenging questions like that can be awkward at times but we must work through uncomfortable moments to reach the best possible consensus. I’ve been recognized in my years of service for asking those difficult questions and speaking out about the ‘elephant in the room.’ I do that because it leads to a wider consideration of all aspects of problems and consequences. If you want progress and improvement, you have to be able to describe the problems with clarity and that means having courage to work through the details even if they are not pretty.
Past surveys to families have not been beneficial or yielded much actionable data due to poor design or objectives. Vague surveys about leadership qualities leave families feeling disappointed and disrespected – especially when people’s comments were limited to a few words (under 100 text characters). This disengages parents who want to be part of the community and widens the trust gap. It is not hard to improve this but takes intention and perseverance.
We have a community of thoughtful parents we should be engaging more deeply. There are many ways to do this – qualitative feedback channels, open Q&A sessions with School Board Directors and Administrators along with follow up of important questions and discussions. Short recaps of School Board meetings in a few paragraphs (like Issaquah School District publishes) could help with transparency, as well as transcripts of the entire meeting as opposed to only having to listen to 60-90 minute long audio files. Provide more time to respond to School Board agendas – right now we have one day to decide whether to make public comment. Sign-up windows can be left open longer. In addition, share publicly the written comments from parents so the public sees what has been written by peer parents. Since 2-way communication is the opportunity for a real dialogue, when people write in comments or speak in person, the school board can reply in some fashion or another, even if it’s a day later, or the next meeting or in a blog. It feels futile to comment when there is no response. To build trust, be responsive.
Our Strategic Plan is up for renewal – why not begin with a series of discussions to dive in and aligning on community targets and objectives?
Two-way communication is key. Having multiple channels of dialogue with active listening, continuity of questions and answers and follow through is absolutely required. The District can let the community know more in advance regarding long term changes and projects before they get too invested in their approach. Taking a growth mindset approach means transparency about mistakes. No one expects perfect decisions every time but we can expect all decisions are well-thought out.
Question 3: The school board is receiving input from a committee tasked with assessing the district’s facilities and making potential recommendations for the next school bond or bonds. The district’s most recently passed bonds were primarily related to increasing building capacity to provide learning space for enrollment growth. This committee is currently contemplating a bond to replace aging school buildings, and with enrollment growth stalled, there is a huge question as to whether the voters will support a bond (or a series of bonds) to replace aging buildings. The current idea is to replace North Bend Elementary, Snoqualmie Middle School and Fall City Elementary School. The price tag was once estimated to be over $300 million, but that was before significant inflation. The committee is primarily comprised of parents from these three schools. It seems that once we go down this road, replacing aging school buildings, there will need to be a series of bonds, not just this first one, Tax bills are high, and many valley residents are at their limits. As a school board director, how would you process this decision? Do you believe that voters will support this approach, and if so, why? And, if not, what is your suggestion?
Every student should be taught in a safe, structurally sound, healthy school building with adequate classrooms, not a fleet of portable classrooms scattered around a campus, each without running water or restrooms. The District should be report on building conditions, capacity and assessments of needs, whether remodeling or rebuilding. No school building lasts forever. But no school will get replaced without earning the approval of District voters. To reach the 60% approval bar, voters need to be convinced to vote yes. The District should work with our legislators to obtain more state funds and parents should lobby them to make real the words of our state constitution that providing amply for education is the paramount duty of our state. Engaged parents can help make this happen.
The District is limited in how much it can borrow by a formula based on taxing authority. It should propose the best and most cost-effective sequence of school replacements or remodeling knowing it has to convince voters of the needs. If a new capital bond is passed, the District should be transparent in how all the money is spent and how construction is progressing, as Issaquah School District does with its projects. This builds trust that taxpayers know where their dollars are going.
I don’t know where the $300 million figure came from. In 2022 the Districts’ Capital Facilities Plan assumed a brand new Elementary School would cost $85 million. See this link: https://tinyurl.com/2w7xpkba. We should remind Seniors and those on disability that the County has tax exemption and deferral programs to help. Qualifying income levels are rising in 2023 to help those who need it.
Linda Bio: I’m a proud parent of a 2023 Mount Si High School graduate (who has flown off to college), a passionate public education supporter, someone who loves to volunteer and be part of that invisible fabric of America’s support groups that enrich our community including PTSAs, Booster clubs and other nonprofits. My long service record has been recognized by the School District and I have been honored to be invited to serve on important district teams such as the High School Visioning and Design committee and representing parents on interview teams for principals and for the superintendent in 2021.
I moved to Washington state in 1991 and was a ‘Big Sister’ volunteer for 7 years until my ‘Little’ outgrew the program. After my daughter was born, I dove deep into supporting her schools and activities, from toddler days at SnoValley Indoor Playground to watching her perform on trumpet at NY’s Lincoln Center with Mount Si High School’s Jazz Band.
I served 2 terms as an elected Si View Metro Park District Commissioner where I learned how good and accountable local governments can be. In 2021 I was appointed to serve on King County’s Citizens’ Elections Oversight Committee and served until 2023. I have over 20 years’ experience as a business law paralegal (including Sonicare and Athira Pharma) and with my husband Joe have been entrepreneurs and family business owners, too.
Serving as a leader at Snoqualmie Valley Indoor Playground, North Bend Elementary PTA, Twin Falls PTSA, Snoqualmie Valley PTSA Council, Twin Falls Music Boosters, Mount Si Band & Orchestra Boosters, Mount Si Drama Boosters, Si View Community Foundation and JazzClubs NW has been an honor and a privilege.
During the pandemic, in 2021 I took it upon myself to attend (via Zoom) or listen to and summarize every school board meeting for a year to share what was happening in that crazy time and how it fit in the big picture. I published these summaries in Living Snoqualmie as a service to our community.