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Educators Are Making Our Voices Heard on School Boards

07/15/2021
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Pamella Johnson

When educators have a voice on school boards, we can advocate for what our students and our communities need.  Our school boards set policies that impact our students and our classrooms and by serving on the boards we can make sure educators’ voices are reflected on those policies.  This year, dozens of WEA members across the state are stepping up to run for school boards

Representing our communities and our students

Paraeducator and Rochester Education Association member Pamella Johnson lives in the North Thurston School District (NTSD), which lately has a loud group of parents who are protesting against anti-racism education and against mask mandates.  When Pamella attended one of the NTSD board meetings, what she experienced was stark.

“A few people are making noise and they don’t even know the truth behind it – it’s distorted information,” Pamella shared.  “One person came to the mic and said, ‘I’ve talked to people in my community who haven’t experienced racism.’ When she said that I was so irritated, but then I thought, that’s why it matters who is represented on the board.”

Pamella has been involved in WEA-PAC for years, so running for a seat on the NTSD board was a natural next step for her. 

“NTSD needs to hear from other cultures and what’s important to us,” Pamella noted.  “Both representation AND relationships matter!  I will strive to make these central in everything that I do as your elected school board director for North Thurston District 2.”

Bringing an equity focus

JoeBentoRenton High School teacher, vice president of the Rainier Uniserv Council, and core team member of the Rainier Educators of Color Network Joe Bento steps up regularly for his students, community, and fellow educators.  And last winter when a seat was open on the Kent School Board, he once again took the opportunity to amplify those voices and applied to be a school board director.  In February, he was appointed onto the Kent School Board.

“I bring things forward as an educator, activist, and union member that the board doesn’t necessarily think about,” Joe shared.  “I want to make sure that people are heard, and that’s the point of this position, listening to the community – not loud voices, but more representative.  I think about who’s in the room and who’s not in the room.”

Joe is running to keep his seat this fall but already he’s brought important change to the district.

“The district does a lot of equity work and I don’t want it to be just checking the box, or ’chequity,’” Joe noted.  “I want to look at the systems we have in place and make real, lasting change.  It’s going to take a lot of work.”

Deepening the community-schools connection

Brandon HerseyMuch like Joe, Federal Way elementary school teacher Brandon Hersey stepped up to fill a Seattle School Board vacancy to make sure student and community voices were central in the district’s decision making.  As a resident of South Seattle, Brandon sees first-hand how communities of color are being displaced from his area and moving to South King County and Federal Way, where he teaches.  That drives Brandon to strengthen and deepen community ties to help repair neighborhoods.

“Gentrification is breaking down our community fabric.  As communities are displaced a lot of the camaraderie and what makes communities special is lost,” said Brandon.  “I applied for this school board seat so that I could give our agenda over to the community.”

In the short time he has been in office, Brandon has already made big changes.  He led the work to create student representation on the school board, he drove the board to adopt participatory budgeting processes, and he’s forcing the district to rethink the way they use isolation and restraint. Now Brandon is running to maintain his Seattle School Board seat. 

“After the uprising last summer, our students organized with community members a rally for Black Education Now with ten demands,” Brandon shared.  “Working backward from those demands with community on various projects have been a joy of this school board experience for me.”

Support pro-labor, pro-education candidates

Don’t miss your chance to support these and other endorsed candidates in their run for office!  Primary ballots begin arriving the week of July 17 and are due August 3.  Vote – your students are counting on you.

Posted in: Elections
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