Fresh blood is challenging Springfield School Board incumbents in the May 21 special election. All six candidates, incumbents and challengers alike, spoke at a May 2 Springfield City Club Forum.
The candidates fielded questions on funding, school attendance rates and career and technical education (CTE) from the audience of about 25 people, which filled the room.
Two candidates each are running for the three board positions up for grabs on the five-member board. Candidates gave stump speeches for the first half of the hour-long forum and answered questions from audience members during the second portion.
When asked about The Student Success Act — an Oregon bill that would add $2 billion toward K-12 school funding — all candidates said they supported the bill.
Laurie Adams, a retired Springfield resident who worked in insurance and real estate sales, is the incumbent and is the longest-standing board member, with nearly 30 years of board experience.
“I bring a lot of stability to the board right now,” Adams said. “We’ve had a lot of changes, and that bothers our staff and it bothers the community.”
She cited her work bolstering CTE funding, her support for avoiding budget cuts to extracurricular activities such as drama, music and sports as well as her efforts to increase district graduation rates, which she says have increased about 9 percent over the last three to four years.
Springfield School District’s 2018 graduation rate was 72.6, according to data from the Oregon Department of Education.
Todd Mann, president of Todd Mann Financial Services, is Adams’ challenger.
Mann says he can bring experience, skills, a vision and the “energy and tenacity” to see his work through. He said he understands the daily challenges of teaching because of his teaching experience, and that he can emphasize with nervous parents sending their kids to schools.
“I see us equipping our children with the skills to become successful, self-supportive graduates by prioritizing investing in financial, nutritional and homeownership literacy education by providing better access to practical classes like personal finance and nutrition, to internship opportunities and career technical education,” Mann said.
Position 4 incumbent Naomi Raven introduced herself as invested in local education.
“If I’m not home with my children, I want to be in the schools and talking to teachers and students and having these hard conversations that need to happen to make our education excellent for everyone,” said Raven, who has four children in the district.
She currently teaches reading and math at Lane Community College, has worked as a substitute teacher in Springfield School District and as a special education teacher in Utah’s Alpine School District. Raven’s parents were also both teachers.
Jessica Adams, who is challenging Raven, also wants to take her boots-on-the-ground experience from volunteering in the district to a position on the board.
“Being in the schools as much as I am and working with the faculty and the students, you have conversations that I think a lot of people don’t normally hear,” Adams said. “You get information, concerns and issues in a casual setting, as opposed to other things that you can bring to the board that you can address.”
She raised concerns about overcrowded classrooms and advocated for action at the district and state levels. She also said that she wants every district school to have at least one counselor at all times. Her biggest asset to the board, Adams said, is her ability to “bridge the gap” with her volunteering experience.
She also advocated supporting CTE, citing her husband’s decision to become an electrician at 25.
“The sooner that they have those abilities to try out new things instead of just being pushed to graduate and then go on to college is something that’s very important to the kids in our communities,” Adams said. “It keeps jobs local.”
She is in her second year as the vice president of the Springfield High School Booster Board and has two kids in the district.
Michelle Webber, the Position 5 incumbent who currently serves as vice chair of the Springfield School Board, cited her experience on the school board.
“I am not afraid to ask questions, challenge status quo and stand up for what I think is right,” said Webber, who was appointed to the board in June 2018 and is seeking to fill a two-year unexpired term. “I understand it is critical to work with our educators, parents, students and community to help foster decisions that create a safe and engaging environment for all students to learn and grow.”
Webber decided to run for the board after not seeing efforts to improve declining attendance, graduation rates and school culture. She has endorsements from many prominent Oregon political figures and organizations, including U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, Springfield Mayor Christine Lundberg, two board candidates and one current board member, according to her campaign website.
Karen Hunter, who is challenging incumbent Webber for Position 5, said that her decade of experience volunteering in the district lends itself well to a board position.
“I can really close the gap between what happens in the boardroom and what happens in the classroom,” Hunter said. “Sometimes there can be a disconnect. Policies can be set and curriculum can be developed that sounds great on paper, but when you’re working in the classroom with the teachers and the kids, you see that it doesn’t always play out the way that it does on paper.”
Hunter has lived in Springfield for 45 years, has four kids in the Springfield School District and serves on the advisory council of Springfield High School Principal José da Silva. The Springfield Board of Realtors endorsed her. She is also a two-time winner of the Volunteer of the Year award from Elizabeth Page Elementary School.