Of the three Washougal School Board positions voters will see on the Nov. 7, 2017 General Election ballot, only one, the district three seat, is contested.
Board member Cory Chase and Board President Ron Dinius are running unopposed for the district four and five seats.
The November election pits two educators — Jaron Barney, a substitute teacher appointed to the board’s district three seat in November of 2015, and history professor Donna Sinclair — against each other for the district three seat.
“I’m the educator on the board,” says Washougal School Board member Jaron Barney. “But I’ve also been an administrator and a parent.”
The 47-year-old Barney started his teaching career in California, working as both a high school teacher and vice principal before moving to Washougal in 2010, where his wife, Kristina, had family.
Since moving to Washougal, Barney has split his time between his career — substitute teaching in the Camas and Evergreen school districts and working as an instructor for private, for-profit colleges like Charter College in Vancouver and Sumner College in Portland — his family, which includes Kristina and the couple’s two children, McKenna, 18, a sophomore at the University of Montana, and Ethan, 13, a seventh-grader at Jemtegaard Middle School; and his appointment to the Washougal School Board, which began in January of 2016.
During his two years on the school board, Barney says he has tried to advocate for the Washougal district’s educators and students.
“When I was in school, there was this dividing line between home and school. Teachers thought, ‘It’s not our job to raise them, just to educate them,’” Barney explains. “But now schools see that they do have a strong role to play in students’ lives.”
Teachers, he says, have come to understand that issues at home bleed over into students’ learning environment.
“When kids come to school hungry or in crisis, they are going to have trouble learning,” Barney says. “Teachers are on the front lines. They see kids coming into the room in distress. And they cannot just turn away and say, ‘I’m just a teacher.’”
But implementing programs that allow teachers to help at-risk students and their families find the resources they need is something that takes committed leaders on the school and district levels, Barney says.
“The teachers are on the front lines, but it takes committed site leadership to say, ‘This is what we need to do,’” Barney says. “And I’m pleased to be a part of a district that has shown this type of commitment.”
He points to resource centers in schools like Hathaway Elementary, a neighborhood school that, Barney says, has “been embraced by the community” and is showing students that they have a large network of adults who care about them and want them to succeed; and to the programs like the freshman academy and the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) college-ready preparation at the district’s new Excelsior High School that target students who may be more likely to fall through the cracks at a larger high school, and says the Washougal district has been proactive in helping its most vulnerable students feel like a part of the greater community.
“We want these kids to know that their school cares about them, that their teachers care about how they’re doing at home,” Barney says, adding that the efforts seem to be working.
He holds up the most recent Washougal School District Ends Report, a snapshot of how students are performing across the district: “If you look at the most recent report, it shows that in 2012, the percentage of sixth-graders who reported ‘feeling safe at school’ was at 85.6 percent. In ‘16-’17, that number was 90.1 percent.”
Ensuring that students feel safe and stable is a critical part of having a successful school district and community, Barney says.
As a board member, Barney has tried to bring teachers’ voices to the table whenever possible. During his first year as a school director, the district was engaged in changing the English language arts curriculum for its K-5 students. Barney wanted to make sure that process wasn’t a top-down type of thing.
“My main concern was that this needed to be teacher-driven,” Barney says. “After the curriculum presentation, I had a question for the teachers. I asked them, ‘Is this a program that teachers can get behind?’ I did not want this to be something done at the district level. It had to be teacher-led.”
The school board’s state legislative representative, Barney is well-versed on what’s happening at a state-level when it comes to local school districts. He also was elected to serve on the Legislative Committee of the Washington State School Directors Association and says that, although there has been “improvement” on the state level, he still has “areas of concern,” especially when it comes to the state’s teacher-funding formula that tends to punish districts like Washougal, which have limited property value growth thanks to constrained boundaries.
“They are trying to come up with a statewide salary schedule that is fair to all school districts,” Barney says.
If elected to serve another term on the Washougal School Board, Barney says he would like to make sure that the district’s newest programs, such as those in place at the new Excelsior High School, are working for the teachers and students.
“I want to make sure that the teachers have the resources they need,” Barney says. “Now that we have the staff in place and the programs are in year one, we need to be very focused on what we’re doing.”
And when it comes to the new ELA curriculum in the district’s lower grades, Barney says the district leaders have to be just as focused: “Are we responding to the data? Are we continuing to support these teachers who are in the classroom, using this curriculum?”
And if he’s not elected? Barney says he’ll still be involved in the community and in education, but it will just be in a different way.
“I’ve always loved working with kids,” Barney says. “And I’d still be a teacher. That wouldn’t change. I’d still be involved with local education somehow.”
To read more about Barney and his campaign for the district three seat on the Washougal School Board, visit twitter.com@JaronBarney.
The thought of “wanting” to be a politician makes Donna Sinclair laugh.
“No, I never wanted to be in politics,” says the 53-year-old Sinclair. “I just wanted to make a contribution in my community.”
A history professor at Washington State University Vancouver who earned her master’s degree in history and her Ph.D in urban studies, Sinclair is dedicated to the art of educating and mentoring students.
In fact, she says, her students are the ones who made her first consider running for public office.
“I had students who told me they didn’t vote in the last election and I was trying to understand,” Sinclair says. “They told me they felt helpless, like their vote didn’t matter.”
Bernie Sanders’ campaign had energized many of her Vancouver-area college students, Sinclair says, but they felt disenchanted by the time the 2016 General Election rolled around.
In an effort to show her students that they could make a difference by voting in local elections, even if they had a philosophical opposition to voting between two presidential candidates, Sinclair began to research various ways that she, as an individual, could help her community as a public servant.
She considered Washougal city politics before focusing her spotlight on a more comfortable fit: the Washougal School Board. A product of Evergreen district’s public schools who had sent her own three children to Vancouver-area schools, helped her now 21-year-old stepdaughter navigate public schools in Camas, and had been an advocate for her 12-year-old granddaughter, a Washougal schools student, Sinclair knew how important public education can be for individuals, families and the entire community.
“I know that public education changes lives,” she states in her campaign literature. “I come from a working-class Northwest family, attended Evergreen public schools and graduated from local universities to become a teacher. Access to education opened my eyes to the wider world and has helped me contribute to my community as a teacher and through service.”
When Sinclair saw that the election-filing deadline was fast approaching and that Washougal School Board member Jaron Barney hadn’t yet filed to retain his district three seat, she decided she would throw her hat in the ring.
“This wasn’t about Jaron,” Sinclair says. “It was about competition. It was about me wanting to make a contribution and serve my community.”
A veteran educator and oral historian who has served as the former president of the Northwest Oral History Association and sat on the executive committee of the United States District Court of Oregon Historical Society, Sinclair understands that board members can’t promise the moon.
“One person can’t say, ‘this is the way it’s going to be,’ or make promises,” Sinclair says.
Although she several ways to improve Washougal’s public education system — including asking tough, pointed questions about exactly where the district’s monetary resources are going, having history curriculum that includes lessons about the region’s many indigenous tribes (as a historian, Sinclair has worked extensively with members of the Chinook Indian Nation) as well as civics classes to teach students about how our government operates; and investigating how well the district is serving its special needs students, particularly those who, like Sinclair’s own granddaughter, are dyslexic and struggling in classes instead of getting the diagnosis and resources they need to thrive in a public education setting.
Since filing to run for School Board, Sinclair says she has been doing her fair amount of research. She holds up a highlighted copy of the district’s proposed 2018-2019 budget and says she has several questions about money earmarked for “other purposes.”
If elected to the School Board, Sinclair says she wouldn’t be afraid to ask tough questions or have certain members of the community dislike her. As an educator herself, she can empathize with the district’s teachers — the certified, union-represented teachers as well as the often part-time paraeducators who are critical, Sinclair says, to helping relieve the burden for classroom teachers and assist students with special needs like autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or dyslexia.
“I would have an open door to teachers and parents who had questions about the district,” Sinclair says. “I know one person can’t come in and say this is what I’m going to do … but being on the board does give you influence and you do have a vote.”
Although she grew up in Vancouver, Sinclair has called Washougal home since 2007, when she moved there to live with her husband, Eugene “Bud” Harris, a lifelong Camas-Washougal resident.
“As a school board director, I vow to listen, to help connect the district with the public it serves, and to make schools more accessible to all,” Sinclair states in her campaign literature. “I look forward to strengthening curriculum, engaging with community members and fostering the conditions for school success.”
To read more about Sinclair and her campaign for the district three seat on the Washougal School Board, visit www.sinclairforschools.com.