From the School Board to the Legislature
For the Spring 2019 issue of WSSDA Direct
we asked six school board members turned legislator how their experience as a school director impacted their journey to the Legislature and how it may have shaped what they hope to achieve in their new elected role.
Rep. Dave Paul (R) – 10th LD
Being a school board director meant working with--and listening to--different constituencies: parents, teachers, staff, administrators, students, community and business leaders, and voters. It taught me the importance of listening for what interests we have in common and how we might craft ideas into policy and action. When we do it right, we can turn skeptics into partners. We have more opportunities to build strong public schools that are influenced by and better serve our communities, our families, and our students.
Rep. Melanie Morgan (D) – 29th LD
I have always been a leader. Even way back in high school, I was the class secretary. But it was really during my time as a school board director that the disparities in our education system were highlighted for me. It is no wonder that as a country we struggle with issues like diversity and inclusion when our education system itself has so many disparities. I recognized it in my own education. Nobody ever spoke to me about college, even though I was class secretary. Through my involvement with WSSDA, I was able to really focus on diversity, equity and inclusion in education, and I commend the organization for being so willing to take the risk in doing this hard and challenging work. Now that I’m here at the Legislature, I am excited and driven to take this work to a higher level. My mission remains the same. People of color must be at the table, to ensure our voices are heard and to monitor the impact of all decisions that affect our people. My job as a legislator is to be the convener – to ensure that all stakeholders are at the table. This is the only way we are going to address the disparities not just in education, but in housing, health care, criminal justice and in ALL areas where our voices have been ignored for far too long.
Rep. Alex Ybarra (R) – 13th LD
When I ran for the Quincy School Board, my goal was to make positive changes for our students and supporting educators locally. A few years ago I was selected by school board members in my region to serve as one of their representatives on WSSDA’s Legislative committee. There, I learned so much about the ins and outs of the legislative process and the many legislative positions that WSSDA advocates for. Our work on the committee was important because we were able to make recommendations for improving positions and creating new positions in response to legislation. A year later I was elected to serve as the DA 7 representative on the WSSDA Board of Directors, and then just this past fall I was elected by WSSDA’s membership to serve as the association’s Vice President. Also, through my involvement with WSSDA, I was able to make connections at the state level. I was appointed to the Governor’s Commission on Hispanic Affairs and represented WSSDA on several legislative task forces. With each of these opportunities, I have learned something new that has helped propel me to my next step in service. Serving as a school board director and in WSSDA leadership helped me learn the importance of structures to help with productive dialgoues and decision making. Our school board and WSSDA committee are non-partisan, but we all came to the table representing a variety of values and beliefs about public education. In order to work effectively together, we needed to collaborate and negotiate our differences. Now, in the Legislature, I find the relationship skills and collaborative approach I have learned over the years is essential. Just like on a school board, we don’t have to be an expert at everything, but we do need to engage, learn, and trust our colleagues and staff. I was appointed to my seat on the first day of the session, so I really hit the ground running. Even though it has felt like a fire hose at times, I’m really excited to be working on issues that are important to my school district and broader community, like ways to increase the availability and diversity of educators, especially those entering their second career or those who have English as their second language; and helping our local farmers with water and agriculture-related issues.
Rep. Lisa Callan (D) – 5th LD
As a school board director, I experienced firsthand how policy affects a child’s ability to thrive and an educator’s ability to ignite the spark in every child. Policy and budget set the priorities and speak to who we are as a school district and a community. The same holds true for state government. Over 50% of Washington’s state budget goes to education. Legislators drive many aspects of education policy beyond funding as well. I believe my real-world experience as a director helps me see how these policies impact students, educators, and school districts. Sitting in the classroom, observing a social-emotional lesson or a writing workshop fed my desire to be in Olympia working on bills to make sure every child is set up to receive the best education possible. Having people making policy decisions that have front line experience is critical to ensuring better policy results. My time spent on the WSSDA Legislative Committee and as my school board’s legislative representative both played a big part in helping me understand that the needs of our school districts can vary dramatically across the state. As a legislator, my job is to focus on what it takes to get every child to reach their fullest potential. Please share any ways in which it may have shaped what you hope to achieve in your new elected role. As a school board director, a parent, and a community member I saw the value in bringing our voices to the table. I believe there is an even greater value in making sure voices that were different than mine were there too. The needs of our children, our families, our communities, and our schools are a kaleidoscope of complex issues. A bridge for one person may be a wall for another. We set priorities in budget and policy. We have to make sure we hear every voice. Then we can work to ensure every decision moves us toward a greater good and does not simply create winners and losers.
Sen. Claire Wilson (D) – 30th LD
My seven years in my role as a school board director helped me achieve my newly elected Senate position and I would be remiss in not saying that my 35 years in early learning, K-12 education and cross-system, cross-sector work added a breadth and depth beyond measure. I was appointed the Vice Chair of the Senate Early Learning/K-12 Committee as well as Assistant Whip on the Leadership Team. Running for any elected office was never in my plans. My role as School Board Director allowed me to focus on the issues that impact children and families within our systems from an educational racial equity perspective – not from a partisan perspective. A public health/human services/solution oriented focus that addressed disproportionality and intersectionality. It allowed focus on the creation of solutions, looking to see who is not at the table and inviting them in, creating a deeper understanding and greater appreciation, and then working for the greater good on potential solutions. I have a long held the belief that we need to create systems that offer supports for all families, that one size doesn’t fit all and not every family has access to, or needs, the same resources. I look out for our most vulnerable and marginalized children and build systems that work for all. My role as a school board director strengthened this focus and the work. My most urgent priorities this session focus on fixing some of the inequities created by the McCleary decision and are focused on increased services and supports for our young people. Others priorities include: SB 5379, which will provide critical support to parenting minors that will allow them to pursue their education, SB 5437 which expands access to ECEAP by increasing income eligibility from 110% to 130% FPL, and lastly, after hearing from young people from across the state, I knew that the sexuality health education our scholars receive needed to be strengthened and more comprehensive, so I introduced SB 5395.
Rep. My-Linh Thai (D) – 41st LD
Serving as a local school board director has given me an inside look at the many different issues that impact our students’ capacity to learn and showed me how policy connects to practice. I was exposed to conversations related to child hunger, shelter, transportation, etc. that I had never been involved with prior to being elected. I saw that schools work hard to support, recognize, and celebrate the various experiences that students bring with them every day. Serving at the state level as WSSDA Vice President has grown my capacity even further. I had the opportunity to meet/hear from other districts and through that was able to learn about cross-district similarities as well as understand the diversity of each district’s challenges. It has taught me to appreciate the complexity of policy and the ultimate goal to make it work for all. My school board experience overall has helped me grow tremendously. I feel prepared now to look at statewide issues through a lens where I can seek to understand diversity in opportunities and challenges.