Latino candidates seek to increase diversity on Oregon school boards

by Melanie Davis
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Jaime Rodríguez (second from left) is running for position 2 on the Hillsboro School Board. Photo by Jules Garza, El Hispanic News Jaime Rodríguez (second from left) is running for position 2 on the Hillsboro School Board. Photo by Jules Garza, El Hispanic News
By Richard Jones, El Hispanic News
Portland, OR — With a growing number of Latino students in Oregon’s public schools and colleges, only a few Latinos hold seats on school boards in the state. On the other hand, Hispanic enrollment has increased from 9.5 percent in 1999 to 17 percent in 2009, according to an ECONorthwest report. A handful of Latinos have registered as candidates for school board seats and won. A few more have entered races for the 2013 elections, for which ballots must be returned by May 21. Most of the Latino candidates face no opponents, giving them an automatic position to help guide the course of education in their districts.

Buel vs. González

Portland School Board Co-Chair Martín González sees parents as part of the educational process.“The more [parents] learn, the better that their children learn,†he says. Photo by Richard Jones, El Hispanic News Portland School Board Co-Chair Martín González sees parents as part of the educational process.“The more [parents] learn, the better that their children learn,†he says. Photo by Richard Jones, El Hispanic News
Perhaps the most contested seat falls in Zone 4 of the Portland Public School Board. Former board member Steve Buel is challenging incumbent Martín González. One of the most visible faces is that of González, a long-time civil rights activist. Over the last 20 years González has participated in more social issues than one can count. He currently serves as multicultural programs manager for TriMet, the Portland area public transportation service Buel, no stranger to defending civil rights, served on the Portland School Board from 1979 to 1983. During his term, Buel helped draft the district’s desegregation program. Throughout his four decades as an educator, he has taught in various Northwest schools. Buel and González also have a little personal history. In a three-way race in 2009, González gathered 50 percent of the vote, with Rita Moore drawing 25 percent and Buel polling 24 percent. Buel has criticized the school board for not having a strong education plan and for a lack of initiative. He advocates putting less importance on standardized tests and concentrating on improving schools. Appointed to the Portland School Board in 2008, González won his seat in 2009. His is currently co-chair of the seven-member board. González notes that position has limited power since four members have to agree in order to pass any measure. González emphasizes the need for education to begin in the home, well before a child sets foot inside a school room door. “Parents,†he says, “need to know that they can make a difference in a child’s education.†He urges parents of 3- or 4-year-old children to introduce their youngsters to books in the home. Unfortunately, he says, many homes have fewer than 10 books in their houses. Children should feel comfortable with — and have respect for — books, González insists. If family finances do not allow buying books, González suggests taking young children to the nearest library. Portland has, he says, “a great library system with a great staff.†González commends librarians for buying children’s books in a variety of languages. Moreover, many provide reading circles for children. “We need to build stronger links with libraries,†González says.

The schools’ role

Educational patterns affect future learning results, González says. Children who perform well in the early grades will usually out do better in later grade, he observes. Therefore, he reasons, the first few years in school will largely determine a student’s future as an adult. “If we don’t catch [students who fall behind early in school],†he says, “then the battle is half lost.†The next step is to prepare students in middle schools to get by in high school. “If they’re not on track by the ninth grade,†he says, “they’re in trouble.†Again, parents can help their children — or not. “The more [parents] learn, the better that their children learn,†González says. Parents should take an interest in their children’s schooling. If nothing else, they should work out a plan to insure that their children finish their homework assignments. González praises parents who, on their own, organize groups of fellow parents to share ideas about helping their children to learn more. “Every kid from every school should graduate,†he says. One challenge, according to González, who earned a bachelor’s degree in education, is that “colleges are not teaching [future] teachers to do their jobs. If they were doing that, we would have different outcomes.†That said, “We have great teachers in the schools,†González insists, adding that they need to mentors younger teachers to improve their skills.

Other board candidates

In Hillsboro, Jaime Rodríguez is running for position 2 on the Hillsboro School Board. Miklosch Sander and Glenn D. Miller oppose him. According to Rodriguez’s Facebook campaign page, he is a career specialist at Portland Community College's Workforce Development Department. There he has helped hundreds of job seekers and students since 1999. Rodriguez believes that all students deserve to learn using modern textbooks in an environment that fosters their intellectual development. In 1985, at Fresno College, Rodriquez earned an associates degree in liberal arts. Three years later he earned a bachelor of arts degree in public administration and political science at California State University, Fresno. After serving eight years in the U.S. Army National Guard, he served on the Ladd Acres Elementary site council, the Hillsboro School District Citizen’s Advisory Curriculum Committee, and was a founding member of the Latino Leadership Agenda and of the Oregon chapter of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement. In the Woodburn School District, incumbent Gemma Punzo has no challengers for Seat 2. Punzo was selected to fill an open seat in 2008, then ran for that seat and won in 2009. Punzo, a wedding consultant, is the only Hispanic member of the Woodburn school board, though about 60 percent of Woodburn’s population is Latino. In Portland, Consuelo Saragoza had filed to fill Trudy Sargent’s seat. As a Multnomah County advisor and TriMet board member, Saragoza has been a visible and active member of the community. Unfortunately, a death in the family altered her plans. In a message to her supporters, Saragoza wrote, “I have decided to drop out of the race. My father passed away unexpectedly and I need to make my mother … who lives out of state [a priority].†Erick Flores, a teacher at David Douglas schools from 2006 to 2012, is currently running as a candidate to become a board of the Parkrose School District.

Rules of the game

Running for a seat on a school board, a candidate must be at least 18 years old and file their candidacy by the last day of April. A candidate must have lived in their district for a year immediately before the election date — in this case, by May 21, 2013, and, if elected, may not hold a job with their school system during their term. The deadline for filing this year was March 13. To have their name and comments listed in the voters’ pamphlet, a candidate must have registered their personal information by March 25. Correction: This story erroneously reported that Erick Flores was running for a seat on the Mount Hood Community College school board. Flores is currently running as a candidate for the Parkrose School District school board. El Hispanic News regrets the error.