Coupeville school board candidates discuss plans

"Four candidates - three newcomers and 1 incumbent - have filed to run for board positions in three of Coupeville's five school district positions. Only one of the seats is being contested. The seats held by Valerie Wiley in District 1 and Joel Brown in District 4 are not up for election until November 2003.The battle for District 2 looks to shake out as far and away the most interesting of the three - and not only because it's the only contested seat. Both candidates are colorful and forcefully opinionated.Brian Montana and incumbent Mitchell Howard are vying for the open position in District 2. Howard has served on the Board of Education since his election in November of 1997. A primary election for this position will be held on Sept. 18. Election Day for Coupeville school board's three open district positions is Nov. 6.Both Don Sherman and Deborah Turner are running uncontested. Sherman isseeking election to the position being vacated by Board Director Cecil Stuurmans in District 3; Turner is running for the seat held by Jackie Henderson in District 5. Henderson has chosen not to seek re-election.The battle for District 2 looks to shake out as far and away the most interesting of the three - and not only because it's the only contested seat. Howard, 53, was born in Manhattan, in the same hospital as his wifeGladys - though, he adds, they weren't to meet until 30 years later inupstate New York. Having gone to graduate school in California, the District 2 candidate has lived in various places around the country, including Georgia and New Jersey.I was for 15 years a parish minister, Howard said of his previous employment. He adds that he's on the board of a small congregation here because they think I have wisdom.I have miles on the odometer, he said with a laugh.Howard first moved from Rhode Island to Whidbey in 1993 where, in a joint venture with other investors back east, he and his wife took over operations of the Inn at Penn Cove.I've been fairly involved with the community over time, Howard said of his business acumen.Howard is seeking re-election on the theme of continuity, having spent the past four years being educated as the rookie by other veterans on the school board like Stuurmans and Henderson. I can tell you that in 4 years, said Howard, that it's been a learning curve. Mainly I've been trying to learn my duties, and learn the ropes.The good team we've had, he added, doesn't want to have a three-fifths turnover at one cycle.As a board member, Howard has served on the State Small Schools Committee. It taught me a lot about the particular problems small schools have in our state, he emphasized. The way that funding works is basically on a per head basis.But you can't get fractions of a Latin teacher, he said with a laugh. A smaller district has less chance to cover all the bases ... to offer a full palette of educational opportunities.Howard said the way to combat such financial obstacles is to bring in to the schools multi-talented teachers who can handle a variety of curriculum requirements.Another of Howard's concerns is that, as Coupeville has blossomed as a retirement-based community, schools have faced a trend toward decreasing enrollment. We have the challenge of trying to keep our level of quality education, he said. The budget is a real wrestling match.Howard also wishes to build up reserves in order to make the cushion more ample regarding the school district's current budget. He believes the board should be prepared for emergencies, rather than facing a schedule of weekly, spontaneous crises.Having in no wise been discouraged by his time on the board, Howard looks forward to once again facing some of these particularly interesting challenges facing Coupeville schools.Montana, for his part, is also rearing to go. A former owner of s sports bar in Port Townsend, Montana relocated to Coupeville in 1994 with his wife Terri and their three children. I'm a home dad right now, said the 39-year-old Pennsylvania native.A self-described family-values guy- I'm very conservative, he asserted -Howard looks to shift the school board's focus back to the kids. I've seen changes as far as academic requirements go, he said.I've seen the balance of the school system outweigh the social benefits to the children.I don't believe that education comes only from academics, from books,added Howard. It comes from the whole academic arena. In running the sports bar, Montana had a philosophy, expressed as a motto: Give the customer a reason to stay, and not a reason to go. He said he believes the principle applies particularly well to our public schools.I believe that is such a simple theory and a simple idea, he said. We tend to get a little to difficult in our decision making. When it comes to education, we have to consider the kids first.While Montana said he believes Coupeville (schools have) done well in maintaining a very wholesome and ... personal environment for the kids, he senses an impending threat to that environment. He cites Oak Harbor schools as an example of settings where it's more of a chore for students to attend than a genuine opportunity.We've got to continue to motivate the kids, he said.Regarding his ability to do just that, Montana said that not only is he very stubborn and noncompromising, but that he's someone with a lot of commitment to keeping the agenda family-friendly. I've coached T-ball, I've coached soccer, I've coached basketball, he said.I've seen and been around the friends of my children and their peers for the last 7 years.Most of the kids I know have single parents, he added. Montana said he wants to work with all parents in finding the best possible way of creating a more community-based, child-oriented and - most importantly - stimulating system of education.The people who sit on the board need to be the people with that direct interest, Montana said.Don C. Sherman - running unopposed for the position in District 3 - considers himself one of the few and the proud, a lifetime resident of Whidbey Island. As well as serving as a Port of Coupeville commissioner for the past six years, Sherman and his wife Deb, a third-grade teacher in Coupeville, co-own Sherman-Bishop Farm.Sherman, 40, holds a bachelor's degree in agricultural economics fromWestern Washington University. He graduated in 1987. With three sons in Coupeville schools, Sherman and his wife have been involved in the (district) in different capacities on a volunteer basis. Sherman is primarily interested in the economic side of things, with a focus and goal ... to provide the best education we can for our kids.Sherman, like Howard, is concerned with the challenge of declining enrollment, which he equates with less dollars to work with and operate.I think we have a really good school district here, added Sherman.They've (the current board members) done a real good job. My interest is to be a part of that and continue to move forward.Also running unopposed for District Position 5 is Coupeville resident Deborah Turner, who is both a live-at-home mother with two children and a writer at work on a historical novel. Turner, who has completed two other as-yet-unpublished manuscripts, has also published articles in the Whidbey News-Times and the South Whidbey Record. Her most recent was a feature on Sally Jacobson's Sassafras Herb Farm that ran in both papers.Turner grew up in Ethiopia, the daughter of missionary parents. After the revolution in 1975, the family moved to eastern Washington, where Turner attended Yakima High School. She met her husband Kent while she was studying at Shoreline Community College in north Seattle. They moved to Whidbey in 1993.I believe in excellence in education, said Turner, 38. She is running for the board, she said, because she wanted to be a little more involved in the whole process. I think I wanted to be a little more involved in the community, sheadded. Though Turner is uncertain about what the position entails, she does have some strong opinions about the state of public education. For one, she is a firm believer in President Bush's push for regular, standardized achievement testing for both students and teachers on the national level. And, as with Sherman, she is interested in the economics of modern education - in getting the best teachers for the money.Turner also sounds the same call-to-battle as her potential colleagueMontana. I feel that a great education foundation starts at home, shesaid, and is strengthened by committed teachers, staff and a solidcurriculum.What I really want to do is strengthen the school environment for the kids, she added, to make our whole school district the best in the state. "

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