The Philomath School Board filled a vacant seat on Tuesday night by choosing and swearing in 23-year-old Christopher McMorran, a local graduate who attended the University of Southern California and now works as a staff member in the Oregon State Legislature.
The four members of the board interviewed four candidates for the position with Ryan Cheeke, Abigail Kurfman, Janelle Marcotte and McMorran all submitting applications. Board members voted 3-1 to appoint McMorran to serve out the remainder of Anton Grube’s term, which expires at the end of June 2023.
The one vote that did not favor McMorran went to Marcotte.
“This school district shaped who I am, so it’s hard to wrap my head around the idea of now being able to do that for other people,” McMorran said after he was sworn in. “The opportunities that I got here as a student, the sense of self I got here as a student, absolutely turned me into the person I am today.”
McMorran has been one of the most active local government volunteers in recent months with service on the school district, city of Philomath and Philomath Fire & Rescue district budget committees as well as the Philomath High site council, school district technology committee, and the city’s Public Art and Inclusivity committees. His résumé also includes volunteering for the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library and Strengthening Rural Families boards.
This summer, McMorran filed paperwork to run for Philomath City Council in the November general election. If he earns a seat on the council, could he continue to serve with the School Board?
“It’s only a couple of months overlap but we’ll see — I need to do some talking with some people,” McMorran said in reference to his City Council candidacy.
The overlap, if he served on both, would be a six-month period from January to June 2023. The School Board term to which McMorran was appointed expires at the end of June and the City Council position would begin in January.
During his talk with the School Board on Tuesday night, McMorran said he would focus on three things if he earns the seat — the financial health of the district, listening to students and ensuring that the schools have good relationships with the city and other entities within the community.
The four candidates for the appointment took turns at the mic telling board members a little about themselves and then fielding questions. The board drew names to determine the order in which they would speak.
Cheeke, a local farmer, said in his application that he considers himself proactive in all aspects of life and is not afraid to stand up for his beliefs and take on a leadership role when needed.
“I really want to see the kids in our community succeed in school and in life,” Cheeke said in his application. “I hope to be a board member that people feel comfortable talking to and sharing ideas with. We need to work together as a community to encourage children to be positive members of society.”
Cheeke provided an example of that point by sharing the story of a 14-year-old girl who recently came out to his farm. In a week’s time, she went from being a shy, quiet kid with a poor self-image to a teen-ager who found enjoyment in what she was doing and opened up to those around her.
Marcotte, who works as an information systems applications manager and is mother to three children in the school district, was up next. Marcotte provided examples of her past professional experiences that helped her develop the type of skills that could be applied in a school board decision-making capacity.
“I want to increase transparency and aid families in having a voice in their children’s education,” Marcotte said in her application. “I want to ensure we evaluate where the district is currently and ensure we are sustainable for the future.”
Abigail Kurfman, an educator who most recently worked with the Lebanon school system, followed and wrote in her application that she would prioritize or balance the needs of students by seeking “input from different constituent groups to make an informed decision on disparate student groups” and “from parents, student groups, educational leaders” as well as “from organizations, writings and recommendations about impacts on students.”
Kurfman ran for the School Board in 2021 and finished second among three candidates behind Joe Dealy with 30% of the vote.
McMorran was the fourth applicant to sit at the table. The board members were familiar with him through past interactions and his attendance at recent meetings. He has been volunteering to head up an effort to renew the school district’s local option levy, which will be on the November ballot.
In his application, McMorran’s comments included the hope that he could “continue the district’s good work towards our mission to graduate every student and transition them to a job, training or college. This is an incredible school district with the capacity to truly change our students’ lives and set them up for successful futures.”
The board members thanked the four candidates for applying and urged the three not chosen to continue to be involved in the district in some manner.
The vacancy on the School Board occurred this summer with Grube’s announcement that he was stepping down after serving three years to be able to return to coaching at Philomath.