Q&A with Virginia O’Neil

Virginia O’Neil

Sequim Gazette staff

Voters kept Virginia O’Neil as the Sequim School District, Position 2 director on the school board.

She defeated opponent John Kirshbaum 4,027 to 1,826 votes, as of Tuesday, Nov 3.

The Sequim Gazette posed questions to O’Neil about winning and what she and the board must accomplish in the near future.

Sequim Gazette (SG): Why do you think you garnered such a big win?

Virginia O’Neil (VO): I took the campaign seriously as I do with all things that I do. I sign waved, had signs and fundraised. If you really want to win, those are the kinds of things you have to do.

I have lived here for 14 years and volunteered for lots of organizations. A lot of folks know me. I think John is relatively new and in a little town, the benefit of living there longer is you know more people.

SG: Are there new issues that came up during this campaign that you want to address?

VO: I think the biggest issue that looms is funding. The state and feds don’t give school districts ample funding. This is a levy year for us and we talked throughout the campaign about that and how we are going to ask the community to step up yet again.

That’s why levies are so exciting. Some communities completely dread talking about levies. This is a chance to show that great communities have great education systems. It’s not something that happens, it is something that we choose.

SG: What issues besides the levy do you think the board needs to address before the school year is over?
VO: At the forefront, we need to look at ways to improve student achievement. We need to adjust the dropout rate. I’d like to see us make a dent in that. Schools can’t be one-size fits all.

Some of the curriculum by the state school board we are required to have is frustrating because of their lack of understanding and empathy for a rural school district. They are making decisions based on the I-5 corridor. Not all kids are the same.

(They) are basing decisions on everyone going to a four-year college and it’s contributing to the dropout rate.

More and more local school board control is going away with more mandates coming from Olympia. We’re scrambling to just keep up.

SG: What are the chances voters will pass this next school levy?

VO: I feel good about that. The levy campaign is going to be well put forward by the Citizens for Sequim Schools (the local organization advocating school levies and bonds) with compelling information.

When voters see the information, they will more clearly see the hill we have to climb.

SG: What are some ways the school board could outreach its actions and decisions to the public?
VO: In general, you only see a packed house at a school board meeting when there is a problem.

Before I was a member, I went to 100 meetings. People don’t find (business meetings) very exciting. I know different districts have informal board meetings before actual meetings, but we’d have to talk about that as a board.

Our school board has been real active in being in the schools and going on several school tours and working on school improvement plans. Our board is very present for staff, more than ever before.

I was excited that we got 207 responses on the school district Web site on a feedback questionnaire. The Web is a possible tool we hope to use more.

SG: What do you look forward to most this school year as a school board member?

VO: I look forward to successfully passing the levy, securing reliable funding, working with the other board members and superintendent and my child graduating.

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