School board members Corey Johnson, left, and Ana Maria Schlecht converse in the district boardroom Thursday. Both have decided they will not seek reelection after their terms end later this year. Photo by Daniel Warn/Whidbey News-Times

Oak Harbor school board seeks new members

Oak Harbor Public Schools had no hot lunch program in the school district when Corey Johnson began serving on the school board.

“I think, in the very beginning stages of my school board career, we had to work very hard on selling the community the need (of a levy),” he said. “There was a period of time that we did not have a hot lunch program because we couldn’t afford it, and that’s one of the things we campaigned on for our levy.”

Almost 12 years later, Johnson, currently board president, has seen many levies passed by the community.

It’s a testament to the diligence of the school board, he said.

Johnson and board member Ana Maria Schlecht have said they will not seek their seats in this year’s election. Johnson said his time has run its course, that the board deserves a “fresh breath of air.”

Schlecht, who was appointed to the seat, said her family is moving out of the area.

The school board will hold an informational gathering for anyone interested in running for those positions. The meeting is 6 p.m. Thursday, April 20, in the district boardroom, 350 S. Oak Harbor St. The candidate filing week is May 1-5.

Johnson reflected on his work as a school board member.

“Honestly, at the time in my life that I joined the school board, I was looking for some sort of purpose, or something to do, and it seemed like the school district was maybe a little bit in the hot seat at the time trying to do a high school and the stadium, so I got involved,” Johnson said.

“I started to attend meetings, and I did that for about two years before a position came open that I could run for.”

Johnson was elected to the school board in 2005 and said that initial decision to apply for his seat came from a desire to know more about what the school district was up to, and a healthy dose of skepticism.

“There was a time when the school district probably didn’t have as much community support behind it,” he said. “There were some communication problems, so I would say that maybe there wasn’t 100 percent community trust, if you will — I just looked at it and thought, ‘I want to know what’s going on.’”

Johnson dialed himself into the district, never looking back once he truly understood the massive weight that sits on the board’s collective shoulders, he said.

“Until you’re involved, you don’t really understand everything it takes to run a ginormous enterprise like the Oak Harbor school district,” he said.

Johnson said he’s a builder — as a school board member, he helped ensure that students received the building blocks of success in education; as a contractor by trade, he has built roads, dug ditches and constructed the arteries of Oak Harbor’s infrastructure.

Like his father before him, Johnson followed the construction pipeline all the way to running his own business. Simply put, Oak Harbor is in his blood.

“I’ve lived here my whole life,” Johnson said. “I went to Oak Harbor schools, I graduated from Oak Harbor schools and ran my father’s business for a little while when I got out of school.”

His business, C. Johnson Construction, does work all over Island and Skagit counties.

“When we were building the high school, the stadium, setting budgets, running school bonds and levies, I feel like each board member (brought) something, and I was able to bring my background in construction to the table,” he said.

Johnson attributes all the improvements he’s seen in the school district to all the members who served with him on the school board — from those that served for quite some time, like the late Gary Wallin, to Schlecht.

“Education is a tool that shapes our society,” Schlecht said. “Ever since I was young, I wanted to be a part of it somehow.”

Schlecht earned a master’s in education and filled the school board seat that Wallin vacated after stepping down last fall.

Schlecht said those were “the biggest shoes anyone could fill.”

An Oak Harbor resident for eight years, Schlecht’s husband accepted a job elsewhere.

Schlecht said she is impressed by Oak Harbor Public Schools’ capacity to care.

“Our school district really loves each kid,” Schlecht said. “I think that’s why Oak Harbor schools are succeeding, because we don’t see numbers, we don’t see percentages. We see people.”

Johnson said the district has improved student learning on every level over the last decade.

He added that the district’s commitment to improving programming and resources for students across the board has allowed the district “to achieve the greatest goal, which is more students actually graduating from high school.”

The graduation rate jumped from 76 percent to 91.2 percent in the last five years, he said.

“I can’t hang my hat on any one event, because I’m just one of five people, but I think collectively the great things the school board has done is build community confidence, pass levies and bonds to make better schools and better programs in schools.”