Election 2021: Five file for Sequim School Board races

Two director positions with the Sequim School Board of Directors are up for election, and neither incumbent filed to retain their seats.

School board president Brandino Gibson, director-at-large, and Brian Kuh, District 2 director, both declined to file for their positions during the mid-May filing period.

Four candidates filed for Gibson’s seat — Derek Huntington, Kristi Schmeck, Virginia Sheppard and Rachel Tax — while just one, Patrice (“Pat”) Johnston, filed for the District 2 position.

The two new board directors will join the five member board that include Larry Jeffryes (District 1), Jim Stoffer (District 3) and Eric Pickens (at-large), each of whom are up for possible re-election in 2023.

At-large candidates

Sheppard, a long-time Clallam County resident, said she will be focused on “an educational environment that fosters growth, community and citizenship.”

Sheppard said in a press release, “I am running as a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. I ask the question, are the Sequim schools doing all they can to prepare our kids for success in the 21st century world?”

Sheppard is a mother of two and a grandmother, with four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. She has experience in the schools as a former volunteer art teacher, teacher’s aide, as well as a treasurer for parent-teacher groups.

“I am concerned about the move toward implementing subjects like Critical Race Theory imprudently which if implemented without proper community vetting can serve only to divide and discriminate,” she said in the statement. “I believe our children can benefit from learning about accurate history, learning about the Constitution, reading, writing and math.”

She also said she believes that when the adult population of Clallam County has achieved herd immunity, children should also be released from their face mask mandate at Sequim schools.

“Our COVID objective should be herd immunity, not herd mentality,” she said.

Tax is a mother of four, with her oldest graduating kindergarten at the end of this school year and her second-oldest starting kindergarten this fall.

“I want the schools the best they can be not just for my kids, but all the kids in the district,” Tax said.

A Sequim-area resident the past four years, Tax said that, other than running for eighth-grade student body president, she does not have experience running for office.

She said she’d like to see some change in demographics on the current board — a governing board that will affect her children’s schooling for years, she noted.

“The current board (is) all men; I think we need a mom on the board,” Tax said. “Not just any mom, but a mom who has kids in the school district.”

Tax said key issues this board will face will include school re-openings and hiring a new superintendent.

“(It’s) trying to navigate the new normal,” she said. “Some people say, ‘Let’s fully reopen’, some are more cautious.”

The new superintendent, who is slated to succeed interim superintendent Jayne Pryne in July 2022, should understanding the community and revive a positive community spirit, and also be able to connect community members with the younger generation.

“The person I picture for (the) schools is someone who loves kids and understands the generational gap,” Tax said.

Huntington said he is familiar with Sequim schools, enrolling at Helen Haller Elementary at the start of his fourth grade year and graduating from SHS in 2004. He’s lived in Sequim for 25 years.

He said he filed to run for school board because he disagreed with the way some situations were handled at the school board level, including the placing on leave of then-superintendent Robert Clark, SHS principal Shawn Langston, and Helen Haller assistant principal Shelley Jefferson in recent months.

“I think I could bring some change,” Huntington said.

As for major issues facing the board, he said, “the biggest thing is getting back into school regularly.”

He said he can see that not being in class on a full-time basis can adversely affect students like his daughter, now in the third grade.

“That’s a big issue that will have to be figured out,” he said.

Huntington is a first-time candidate for political office.

A fourth candidate, Kristi Schmeck, said on June 1 she is in the process of withdrawing her candidacy for personal reasons.

District 2 candidate

Johnston, who will be running unopposed for District 2 director this fall, comes from a family of educators.

“My mother and siblings have spent their careers as teachers, coaches, counselors, and librarians; somehow, I became an attorney,” she noted in a press release.

“I am running for Sequim School Board because I believe that good schools are the heart of a healthy community. Schools help young people gain the skills and knowledge they need to succeed as adults, and also give them a way to find their place in the world.”

Johnston said she spent many hours as a parent board representative and classroom volunteer at her children’s schools before she and her husband retired to Sequim.

“(I) have the deepest respect for professionals who devote their lives to working with kids,” she said.

She said her background in family law and as a CASA (Court Appointed Support Advocate) volunteer for foster children will serve her well on the board.

“I think that this board will benefit from someone new, and someone like me, to move forward. My background in family law taught me the value of listening and looking for common ground. Some board issues are complex and have legal aspects, and I think I can contribute in that area.

“And of course, it’s always a good time to have at least one woman on the board.”

Not running: Gibson, Kuh

After seeing who had filed and considering those board members not up for election, Gibson said last week he was comfortable not filing for another term.

A state WorkSource supervisor, Gibson said the Port Angeles-based agency will be opening a Sequim office by the end of 2021.

“It’s a lot of work-related; we’re (also) in the midst of trying to do a reopen of our office coming up after being closed for over a year,” he said. “(We have) several new staff, some staff retiring, there’s going to be a lot of work there.”

Gibson also noted it was a struggle at times to take time off in the middle of work days for school board meetings.

“The other thing is, I have a retirement target plan and am working toward that,” he said.

“If I reach that goal, it would be before (this) term would be up.”

Gibson said it came down to the last day of filing before he finally made up his decision not to run; seeing a list of some qualified candidates lining up to fill his role helped, he said.

“There’s a couple (of candidates) I’m very comfortable with; they’ll bring a nice, new perspective to the board,” Gibson said.

He said he was proud of the work community members made in helping pass the 2017 levy that built the new district kitchen, as well as two levies earlier this year.

“In the midst of a pandemic (we) passed two more levies; there were some districts who weren’t able to do (one),” Gibson said.

“In spite of the challenges, I think as a district we did a good job to educate kids and keep them as safe as possible.”

He also said the district will benefit from the board’s decision to retain interim superintendent Jane Pryne for another year as the board and school staff seek her successor.

“I think that was good mutual decision; it gives us a little more continuity for another year,” Gibson said.

Recent turmoil has surrounded the resignation of Sequim Schools Superintendent Rob Clark, an ongoing sex-discrimination lawsuit against Clark, and the placing on leave of Sequim High School Principal Shawn Langston.

“I think we did a good job of navigating all of that,” Gibson said.

Kuh, executive director of EDC Team Jefferson, said it’s a good time for him to focus more on his career and family.

He said competing pressures on his time, including work and family life, made the decision for him.

“We really had some strong candidates emerge (during filing wee)k, and one that would add diversity on the board,” Kuh said, noting Johnston’s filing for his position.

“She’s got a great demeanor, a great understanding of what it means to be a board director,” Kuh said. “Why would I want to stand in the way of that?”

Kuh said he feels the district is in a good place despite some challenges among the administrative staff.

“In many ways, there was a lot of good work and hard work to help stabilize the district,” Kuh said. “(There are) challenges that remain throughout the district but I feel it’s on a good footing right now.”

He said he’s looking forward to working toward a new superintendent hire before his term ends.

“There is an overarching concern about leaving unfinished business (but) I have until November to do my part to address anything ongoing at the district,” Kuh said. “(The superintendent decision) won’t be done by the time I leave … but there’s enough time for a smooth handoff there.”