Candidates Smith, Jensen promote community engagement on school board

The two candidates running for the Position 4 seat emphasized the importance of transparency.

The two candidates running in the race for the Position 4 seat in the Oak Harbor School Board emphasized the importance of keeping shareholders informed about all that’s happening in the district.

Sharon Jensen, who works as a part-time finance and human resources manager at an architecture firm in Seattle, was appointed to the board in January 2023, taking Erik Mann’s seat.

Will Smith is a retired Navy chief who works as the technology director at the Coupeville school district and is a member of its leadership, equity and safety team. He is a father of two Oak Harbor students and has experience managing multi-million dollar budgets, developing course curricula, acquiring adaptive technology and writing state and federal grant applications.

Jensen said she believes her parental, business and life experience give her the right perspective to serve the district. She has almost 20 years of professional experience with accounting, budgeting and supervising. She has four daughters who have attended school in the district, and has been involved with youth by serving as a Bible study group leader at Family Bible Church.

If elected, Jensen said she would continue to keep an open mind when listening and asking questions and intends to continue encouraging community engagement. She explained that she does not follow an agenda and doesn’t have key issues she wants to address, but if she remains on the board she would strive to keep herself and stakeholders informed.

Jensen said she would focus on the budget as the district is tight on money without the pandemic relief funding and is dealing with a higher than average special needs student population. She also wants to prioritize strategic planning and improving test scores to be better than the state average, though she finds current trends to be encouraging.

“I’m feeling good about what we’re hearing and seeing, and what results the data is giving us now,” she said.

She looks forward to continuing to learn and share “all the good things that are going on in the district.”

Smith said that, if elected, he would focus on student success, budget responsibility and building community trust. Part of this effort would consist of ensuring transparent communication with all stakeholders.

Part of ensuring student success consists of creating a safe and inclusive learning environment, which Smith wrote he would do by ensuring that the strategic plan addresses the diverse needs of all students with different backgrounds and needs by providing mental health resources, promoting adaptive technology and educating teachers on how to support special needs students. Addressing bullying and other forms of discrimination is also another important element to include in the strategic plan.

Smith wrote that test scores aren’t the only way to assess student success, and the district needs more holistic tools to make these evaluations — such as teacher evaluations, classroom performance and feedback from students and parents, all while considering the impacts of the pandemic on the students’ mental health.

Smith would also advocate for existing programs and for investing into innovative educational initiatives.

“I will advocate for a budget that prioritizes hiring and retaining quality teachers, improving educational technology, and providing adequate resources for special education and extracurricular activities,” he wrote in an email.

To make sure that special education is properly funded, the district might have to collaborate with other legislators and stakeholders to secure state funding, Smith said.

Smith explained that one way to build community trust after the failed bond measures would look like creating a budget, with details on how funds will be spent, that the average community member can understand and use to make informed decisions. He also said he would strive to keep the community informed in a timely fashion through newsletters, social media and the district’s website and would attend town hall meetings and community forums.

Regarding the district’s contract negotiation efforts with the public school employees union, Jensen said she could not comment as negotiations were still in progress. Smith wrote that staff deserve to be paid livable wages but the district must also be mindful of budget constraints, as there are programs in need of funding as well. He said a solution might involve exploring other sources of funding, optimizing existing budgets or seeking grants and partnerships.

Jensen said she was pleased to see students come forward and advocate for “The Laramie Project” and that she is excited to see the play at the Playhouse, but said that as a board member she couldn’t respond to public comments made during the meeting. On the other hand, Smith said there should have been a more transparent decision-making process that involved students and the community.