Laural O’Rourke grew up in Eugene and went to 4J schools, and her five children either attend or have graduated from 4J. Now she’s running for the 4J school board, and the incumbent was so impressed by her candidacy that she has stepped aside and endorsed O’Rourke.
“I had this feeling in my heart that my time has passed, and it was really Laural’s time,” longtime school board member Anne Marie Levis says of her decision to back O’Rourke.
It was never that she was running against Levis, O’Rourke says, but rather that after her own experiences with 4J and inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, she felt compelled to run. Former Mayor Kitty Piercy suggested she run and signed on to chair the campaign.
Levis, who had been looking for the right person to fill her spot, says that she soon found people saying to her about O’Rourke, “I love you, but she’s great!”
Levis decided to reach out to O’Rourke through a friend, “In normal times I would have met her by now.” And after they chatted, “I just kept coming back to: She can do some of the things I can’t do.”
And when at a recent endorsement interview someone said, “The person you are running against is great, why should we endorse you?” Levis answered, “If it were me, I’d probably endorse her.”
She adds, “I believe it in my soul. It’s the right thing for the school district.”
And, Levis says, O’Rourke and she are “really aligned” on the topic of mental health, which thanks to COVID was the reason Levis had originally decided to run yet again after 12 years on the board.
“When people like me know someone is better for a spot, we should endorse and step aside, I have had my time and done my work and done great work.” Now, she says, “it’s my time to step back.”
O’Rourke says, “We did have a great conversation because we are both pretty straightforward talkers and I just take people as they come at me.”
In addition to mental health, O’Rourke is focused on preparing the kids who aren’t going to college for a future and making a living wage through funding and implementing Career and Technical Education. As someone who has worked on homelessness through her job in Human Services at Lane County, she wants every student, not just college bound students, to be ready to be economically independent, and sees that as a way to prevent poverty and homelessness.
She is also looking to improve 4J’s communication and teacher diversity as well as ensure equity for all students. She says three of her own children have IEPs, which are Individualized Education Programs written for students who need special education services.
O’Rourke also brings her own experiences in 4J schools. “I have the baggage of being a Black kid in school; I was heavily policed. My framework into my 40s was that I was a real bad kid.” She laughs, “I didn’t even try pot until I was in my 40s.”
She says, “My mom is white, and she did the best she could, but I didn’t have that Black voice saying, ‘That’s racism.’ You internalized it all, and it’s happening in our schools.”
And mental health, she and Levis agree, “is profoundly important.”
March 18 is the last day to file, and as of press time, O’Rourke is now the only candidate for position 2 on the 4J school board.