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  • Writer's pictureChristopher Brownawell

Candidate Questions/Hockinson School District Position 1

TO: Meg Wochnick, Columbian Education Reporter

FROM: Bill Eling

DATE: June 18, 2021


Thank you for the opportunity to share the premise of my candidacy for the Hockinson School District’s Board of Directors. I do not have a suitable photograph that I can send to you today but will take the effort to get you a photograph next week. Let me know if there are any format requirements for a photo. My answers to your questions are as follows:

  1. Why are you running for the school board?

Public education is important to our children and the community for many reasons. With the increasing number of state mandates, many of which have little to do with student attainment of basic academic skills, I want to be part of the School Board that prioritizes the teaching of basic skills. I think that the obsession with race is an unwelcome distraction from the school’s core function and core competence. My expectation is that public schools exist to teach children how to think, not what to think.

I reject the implied presumption by the State educational establishment that the Hockinson School District is systematically racist and that my neighbors, past and present school board members, superintendents, teachers, staff or students are racists, conscious or unconscious. Any educational program based on a false premise is contrary to the basic purpose of education and should be viewed skeptically and ultimately rejected.

Hockinson enrollment declined 13% last year. Assuring parents that the school district emphasizes the basics and not ideology could be one step in reversing that trend.

  1. What are your goals and priorities for the Board if elected?

I share the goals set forth in the District’s Mission Statement, particularly the creation of independent thinkers, and the four goals established by statute for public schools, RCW 28A.150.210.

My focus would be increasing Board involvement in choosing curriculum and in reviewing how that curriculum is executed in the classroom. Except for K-3, I would be a proponent of integrating class course materials that challenge the theories underlying the State mandated curriculum. Independent thinkers are not created without exposure to multiple narratives. Stigmatization of those who question the State’s narrative is not acceptable. Critical examination of the premises of a dominant narrative is a worthwhile exercise particularly in an academic environment and is what is contemplated in RCW 28A.150.210(3) [“Think analytically, logically and creatively . . . form reasoned judgments and solve problems . . .”]

With regard to transparency, I would support making the lesson plans, handouts, and other curricular materials available to the public online.

  1. How has your experience and background prepared you to serve on the school board?

I understand the responsibilities of public agencies and am cognizant of the dynamic tension between administration and elected officials. Over the forty years I have been a lawyer, a good portion of my practice involved representation of public entities. So public meetings will not be a new experience for me.

I’ve been involved in education as a parent, a student and as a taxpayer. My family attended Hockinson schools before and after the construction of the high school. I spent 19 years as a student. I have a good idea what I am getting into and know the basic elements of a good education.

  1. What are the most pressing issues facing the District and how would you address them?

There may be multiple reasons why enrollment fell 13% but the decline has a financial and administrative consequence. With increased reliance on State funding, funding which is tied to the enrollment head count, an unexpected decline in enrollment upsets the budget, class size, etc. I suspect that much of the decline is related to a loss of confidence in the District. I also suspect the loss of confidence is related to COVID 19 protocols, the chaos of 2020 and remote learning, and curricular issues such as the diversity, equity, inclusion programs, critical race theory, social emotional learning and comprehensive sex education.

But the District didn’t choose to implement these policies on its own. The majority of the controversial policies are mandated by the State. The COVID protocols were mandated by the State. I believe the Board could respond by including a broader, in-depth curriculum to address the State’s singular narrative. The question is whether there is enough time in the school day and the school year to implement a broader curriculum. I am unsure how we can fix pandemic related issues. It’s really a mess.

Something I have not heard discussed is how these State mandated programs affect our teachers. I am sure that many teachers support the programs or philosophy of the State mandated programs. I am also sure there are many [even those who may agree with the underlying premise] who think these programs do not begin to solve the perceived problems and these teachers remain silent out of fear. I see little or no merit in addressing racial power structures in a kindergarten class with kids who are trying to learn the alphabet. And I am not afraid to state this obvious point. But what teacher is going to bring it up unless the School Board provides some support?

  1. How would you rate the performance of the district and board’s response to handing covid-19 developments this school year/ and what lessons should the district learn from the pandemic that can help it be better in the future?

Given the inconsistency and bewildering frequent changes of the State’s “science-based” proclamations and protocols, from masking, asymptomatic spread to social distancing, I think the District did the best that it could do under these circumstances. How many times did the Superintendent and Board draft a plan only to have it change within weeks of it being implemented? How much of their valuable time was wasted? How much chaos was introduced into the daily lives of every Hockinson family? I cannot be critical of HSD when the experts decline to take responsibility. In the future, I would encourage the Board to invite the experts to come explain their guidance and also come back and explain why the guidance changed when it does. Proclamations aren’t working. Even experts need to make the case.

The school year will have started before the election but I want to make clear that I am opposed to a vaccination requirement. I don’t think it is the school board’s place to mandate that children take a vaccine available only under an emergency authorization, when there is no clear evidence of its long-term safety for young people and there are reports of heart inflammation in young people who have received it. Parents, not the school board, should evaluate whether the vaccine is justified for their kids based on the low risk of that age group getting sick, being hospitalized or dying as a result of COVID and with the emerging evidence that low-cost therapeutic treatments are safe and effective. If vaccination is required for enrollment, I would expect more parents to opt out of the public schools, further weakening them. I took the vaccine. It was my decision. It didn’t look to the School Board for advice.

  1. What does diversity, equity and inclusion mean to you and what would it look like in action in schools?

If elected as a school board member, I would use the statutory definitions of diversity, equity and inclusion as necessary. However, I think it is difficult to apply DEI to a school district. A school district is as diverse as the people who live in the District. The District really has nothing to do with that. If you mean diversity in culture, that diversity will surely disappear when parents decide that their culture is not respected by the District and opt out.

Inclusion? Question: has anyone been excluded from HSD or from any HSD program? If not excluded, a fair conclusion is that people are included. Isn’t this really about being polite and respectful to people?

Equity is a different proposition. Equity implies an adjudication and the imposition of remedy to right some wrong. I think school districts are not well-equipped to oversee such adjudications. The purpose of public schools is not to right wrongs. The purpose of the schools is to educate and nurture students in a non-hostile environment so they can develop the skills they need to lead successful, peaceful lives.

  1. What are things you think the school board is doing well? What do you think they need to improve on?

The school board and the administration kept the wheels on during COVID. They work hard at problem solving and appear to work well together. Over the years, I have found the board’s explanatory statements making the case for capital levies to be cogent and well-thought out. In fact, I think the incumbent in the District 1 position is doing a good job. But campaigns are about issues.

I think the Board should be more forceful about curriculum. I find it odd that the Board’s mission statement makes little reference to curriculum. Curriculum is the cornerstone of education, the key to the future of public schools and a board responsibility under RCW 28A.150.230. Teaching a singular ideology is antithetical to creating independent thinkers. For example, not allowing criticism of critical race theory due to hostility or a lack of time is a non-starter.

I would like the Board to be more transparent. I know “transparency” is a buzz-word, but this is what I mean: I think taxpayers, voters and parents have a right to know what is being taught in the schools they pay for. Lesson plans and curricular materials need to be online. HSD needs to let the taxpayers know what the State is requiring it to do even if these requirements are hiding in plain view on the Office of the Superintendent of Public Schools website. The Board can’t change the State policy but well-informed voters can. Let’s help them.

8. How will you hold the superintendent accountable?

I presume the Board performs an annual performance review of the superintendent as required by state law. That said, as a practical matter you can only hold a superintendent accountable if the Board has done its’ job in setting goals and objectives and held itself accountable for doing so. The Board has a responsibility to give the superintendent clear direction and to support the superintendent in working to reach those goals and meet those objectives. In short, superintendent accountability is a function of Board accountability and communication. So, I would hold the superintendent accountable by doing my job.

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