Two Washougal residents submitted their names for the Washougal School District’s (WSD) board of directors District 1 seat during a special filing period held Aug. 7-9.
Jim Cooper and Bill Durgan will vie for the position in the Nov. 5 general election to take the place of current board member Teresa Lees, who announced earlier this year that she won’t seek re-election.
Cooper moved to Washougal in 2016 after retiring from a career as a scientist, college professor and administrator.
For 28 years Cooper worked as a professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology and associate dean of mathematical, life and physical sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB).
Cooper also served as a research scientist for Atlantic Richfield Company Solar and Stanford University, and founded Vanalytics LLC, an enology lab and consulting service. He graduated from Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania, with a degree in biology, and from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, with a doctor of philosophy degree (PhD) in biology and biological sciences.
“I have a background in education, and most of my family members are educators,” Cooper said. “I have what I think is a good background to contribute in public education. There’s a great opportunity in Washougal with the new superintendent and the fact that the district has already gone through some budget issues. I look at Camas and see the impact that schools can have on a community. I’d like to see the same impact in Washougal.”
Cooper is currently the president of the Washougal Arts and Culture Alliance board, and a member of the Port of Camas-Washougal’s Parkersville National Historic Site advisory committee.
Cooper said that as a WSD board member, he’ll listen and work hard for Washougal families to enable student success; make effective use of public funds to recruit and retain outstanding educators and develop facilities; empower teachers and administrators to provide exceptional educational opportunities; and promote the further development of technical and vocational programs for students.
“I know that not everyone needs to go to college, but every high school graduate needs skills to get a good job and have a good life,” he said. “You don’t have to have a college degree to have a good salary and benefits. We need to look at the whole of what society needs. We don’t need a bunch of professors and history majors. With a lack of training, it’s hard to find electricians and plumbers. We need a diverse group of educated people who have the skills to do stuff we all need done.”
Durgan is a lifelong resident of Washougal with deep roots in the community.
“My family founded Washougal,” he said. “(Durgans) have been here since the 1850s, 1860s.”
Durgan doesn’t have any public office experience, but said that he believes “it’s important that the people who have been here be involved.”
“It was an open seat that nobody had filed for. I had thought about running for other things, like the city council, but I understand that this is a volunteer position, and I thought I’d try that out,” he said. “This interested me because it’s a public program, and it’s for the kids. I went to Washougal schools, my kids went to Washougal schools and my grandkids are currently in Washougal schools.”
Durgan, who attended Washougal High School and Clark College, worked for the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers Union at the Crown Zellerbach paper mill in Camas for 10 years, then worked in the scaffold and construction industry for Union 296 in Portland and Union 335 in Vancouver for 32 years.
“I was a construction worker and labor superintendent, and I ran crews of anywhere from three to 125 people all over the Pacific Northwest,” he said. “There were three or four companies that I worked for, all well known.”
He says that he’s currently “semi-retired.”
“I still go in every once in a while and help out in a small fashion,” he said. “I’ve got old cars that I tinker with, and I’ll take my wife or grandkids out for a ride.”
Durgan said that he’s eager to learn more about WSD.
“I’m a local with grandkids in the school district, and I wish to be involved in their well being, the schools they’re in and the teachers and people they’re involved with,” he said. “All the kids deserve the best they can get. (The Washougal School District) has had its ups and downs over the years, and it’s seen quite a bit of changes, and it’s seen some good things happen. I hope it continues to get better and better, and I hope to see it from a different side instead of the outside.”