Camas School Board fills vacancy

Longtime schools volunteer Bamini Pathmanathan will replace Doug Quinn

The Camas School Board has found a replacement for former board member Doug Quinn, who resigned his school board position in December 2022, after being named the city of Camas’ new city administrator. On Monday, Feb. 13, the school board voted unanimously to appoint Bamini Pathmanathan to the vacant District 4 seat.

The Board received three applications for the vacant seat and interviewed all three candidates during its Feb. 13 workshop.

Pathmanathan, a registered dietician who moved to Camas in 2008, said she gained a better understanding of the school district while volunteering in her children’s Camas schools and serving on the Camas School District’s Citizens Advisory Committee and on the Camas Educational Foundation.

“Since 2008, I’ve done my best to be present in different capacities,” Pathmanathan said of her volunteer work inside the Camas School District. “I think schools run best when we, as the community, are involved and invested. As observers, we can be quick to criticize, but you don’t really know how it functions until you’re involved. I am glad I got those opportunities to learn.”

Pathmanathan said she felt fortunate to have had the chance to serve on both the Citizens Advisory Committee, which acts as a liaison between the community and the school board, and the Camas Educational Foundation, a 25-year-old foundation that helps fund extra educational programs inside the Camas School District.

“The opportunity to serve on the Camas Educational Foundation was a lot of fun, but also opened my eyes to how (school district) funding works,” Pathmanathan told the school board during her Feb. 13 interview.

As the chair of the Foundation’s mini-grants program, Pathmanathan said she worked with teachers, parents and students who were seeking funds for projects or supplies not provided by the district or state.

“I was educated on why they needed that money – why schools didn’t provide that,” Pathmanathan said. “The money (paid for) books for teachers, for kids to grow gardens at their schools. It was innovative … and I wanted to fund them all, but that was not possible, and it was a hard lesson to learn.”

Asked how she might balance her own needs with the needs of the community and the school district if appointed to the school board, Pathmanathan said she thought it was important for school board members to be in the community as much as possible and to look for common ground among community members, students, parents, teachers and staff.

“If you can find common ground, you can find a solution,” Pathmanathan said. “It’s important to be ‘in the know’ … being open, listening, being at events, present in the schools and being in the know to find that common purpose and common ground.”

“You can’t put your blinders on for your own interests,” she added. “One thing I’ve always seen in this community is (a willingness to have an) open dialogue and reflect on what’s being said. … Being open and willing to compromise creates positive opportunities for our students.”

Asked to define what the district’s belief in equitable teaching practices and success for each student means to her, Pathmanathan said she had thought about the question of equity quite a bit since applying for the open school board position.

Pathmanathan said she has seen equitable teaching strategies being employed inside Camas classrooms when teachers and parent volunteers take the time to set aside their own personal agendas and biases to listen to students, accept their differences and meet those students’ individualized needs.

“As an elementary kid, I came in not knowing any English,” Pathmanathan told the board members. “If it weren’t for someone putting aside bias and meeting me where I was, I could have been one of those kids who (did not succeed in school).”

Asked what opportunities and challenges she sees for the school district in the future, Pathmanathan named funding challenges, closing the achievement gap, providing more resources for students’ mental health, school safety issues, attracting or retaining quality teachers and enrollment data that showing the district is not growing as fast as it once was as some of the biggest challenges she believes the school district faces in the next few years.

“Limited funding will create struggles for the district and is an ongoing thing we have to work on,” Pathmanathan said. “I’m grateful that the community has been willing to provide (additional school district funding through bonds and levies). We need to have that support.”

On the flip side, Pathmanathan said she sees the school district’s greatest strength in the fact that it is a part of the greater Camas community.

“This is a very vibrant community and (people) are willing to help, to be there,” Pathmanathan said. “The strength of Camas is the community we have.”

Engaging with the greater Camas community is critical to the school district’s future success, Pathmanathan said, adding that she appreciated how the school board members reacted to a sometimes riled-up group of parents and community members during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Things were handled with calmness during COVID and in a civilized manner,” Pathmanathan said.

“I think it is really important (for the school board to) always be engaging the community,” Pathmanathan added. “Being willing to get out there and listen and engage in difficult conversations — things people don’t want to talk about — is important. We can’t just close our eyes and pretend nothing is happening. That’s ignorance. We have to get out there and figure out what is and what is not working.”

The school board interviewed Pathmanathan as well as two other applicants — Dawn Hendricks, an educator at Clackamas Community College in Oregon and Pepperdine University in California, who has also served as a member of the Camas Educational Foundation, and Kendall Theimann, a finance and health educator and longtime Camas athletics coach — during the board’s Feb. 13 workshop, then went into a 45-minute executive session closed to the public to deliberate.

When they emerged from the closed executive session, Camas School Board President Corey McEnry thanked all three applicants.

“Their passion for the community, our students and for learning really shone,” McEnry said of the board applicants. “This was a difficult decision. Each (applicant) brings a certain set of strengths that would serve our community well.”

The board then voted 4-0 to appoint Parthmanathan to fill the vacant District 4 seat. She will serve in that position through the remainder of Quinn’s term, which was set to expire in December 2023. Voters will elect a permanent District 4 school board member in the November 2023 general election.

Pathmanathan will be sworn-in to her new position during the school board’s next regular meeting on Monday, Feb. 27.