Following is a Q-and-A conducted with Joe Dealy, Brittany Kennedy and Abigail Kurfman, candidates for the Philomath School Board’s Position 3 seat.
Q: What is your primary motivation for running for a School Board position?
DEALY: I want to continue the volunteer spirit that has made Philomath a strong community. I want to aid in overseeing the finances that the community has entrusted to us. My experience as a Philomath educator gives me an advantage in helping manage the school district. I have no specific personal or political agendas, only what’s best for our kids and our community.
KENNEDY: As the parent of a second grader and incoming kindergartener, I am running so that I can be an advocate for students and parents. My husband and I chose Philomath to raise our family because of the small town and the reputation of excellent schools. By participating as a School Board member, I get the opportunity to ensure that our schools stay a safe space for students to learn and grow, and that we continue to provide excellent education.
KURFMAN: As an educator, using my experience and fresh perspective to support Philomath School District is a way I can serve my community. I know firsthand how essential schools are to a community, and I’ve found this to be especially true in Philomath. The strengths of PSD inspire me as does the work the district is doing to grow, particularly around building opportunities for a high-quality education for every student and eliminating barriers that prevent that. Using my years of classroom experience and context from working with other districts, I will support those efforts and help the PSD continue to grow.
Q: As a board member, where would you look to make budget cuts and are there any areas you would not consider cutting?
DEALY: I would do everything possible to maintain programs that enrich the student experience without sacrificing the integrity of the academic programs at all levels. There should always be an emphasis on student well-being and success. It will be crucial to do the groundwork to ensure stable funding at the state and local levels. It is impossible to single out one area for cuts, if they are necessary, without having more situational information to base decisions on.
KENNEDY: The budget is a complex and important portion of being on the School Board. However, my focus won’t be on what cuts to make, but rather, what do the students and teachers need? Validating expenses with respect to academic growth and making sure funds are available for special programs that promote that growth is very important to me.
KURFMAN: Philomath School District already makes efficient use of the dollars available each year, so cuts would not be easy. If we must cut, it is important for the School Board and superintendent to look at the budgets that support us and cut those first, limiting direct impact on students as much as possible. Part of leadership is making sure to sacrifice before asking others to do so. While no area can be fully off-limits, we should protect high-impact programs serving vulnerable student groups as much as possible (for example, early elementary, special education, English language development.).
Q: What do you see as our district’s current strengths and weaknesses?
DEALY: Philomath has a great history of community support for our students, from the Clemens grants, to operating levies and being willing to invest in building and maintaining outstanding facilities from classrooms to sports venues. Philomath has strived to have top-level teaching, administrative and support staff at all levels. Areas that need work include serving traditionally underserved populations and the ability to provide extensive opportunities for all members of the district community.
KENNEDY: One of the current strengths are the teachers and staff. It has been my experience that the staff is extremely dedicated to our students. Small class sizes are also a major strength. I would like the district to continue to work toward their vision of “graduate every student and transition each into a job, training, or college.” According to ODE the graduation rate for the district was 90% for the 2018-19 year. While above the Oregon average, it is something that the district could continue to improve on.
KURFMAN: Low staff turnover indicates staff feel welcomed and supported. Leadership is committed to doing what’s right for kids. Our schools have excellent extracurriculars, incredible CTE programs, a phenomenal counseling team and caring professionals at all levels. The district also recognizes we can grow even stronger so all students feel welcome and supported to succeed. We can build our capacity to include families and students of all races and life experiences. Recognizing our perspectives as educators can help us support students with their own complex, developing identities. (For me, that includes recognizing my perspective is shaped by my whiteness and queerness.)
Q: What do you believe are the main opportunities that the Philomath School District has in order to better serve its students and their families?
DEALY: We must take advantage of the various available state and federal funding streams to support and maintain development and implementation of programs that meet the needs of a changing economy while supporting the foundational values of education in Philomath. Taking advantage of local and regional partnerships will continue to be an important part of the process.
KENNEDY: Having students to stay safe and back in school full-time for full days would be, in my opinion, the best way for the district to better serve students and families. I also support parents and staff being able to have options when it comes to doing what is best for their families. Philomath Academy is a great way to serve students and families who traditional public school was not the best option for their situation.
KURFMAN: We can further engage and empower students as learners, using data and listening to students and families so that all students have strong opportunities for success. Listening is essential, and the pandemic has made it even clearer that students, families and schools must work together! When we listen to student and family voices, especially those traditionally listened to less, our decisions will be stronger. I’ve been learning this as a teacher, seeing how conversation and learning is enriched through relationship and listening. Through all of this, we can continue to support the whole person of students, families and staff.
Q: What do you see as the major issues facing the school district in the next four years?
DEALY: It’s hard to have a crystal ball, especially given the last year of global chaos, but I would see the primary issue to be stable funding. With a global economy in flux, it’s hard to predict and plan for the future. Maintaining and building our student population will be crucial to our success, which is intertwined with meeting the needs of a growing Philomath community.
KENNEDY: There needs to be a continued focus on career technical education (CTE). If as a district we are going to “transition each into a job, training, or college” then we need to provide students with educational opportunities that make them skilled to work and not just prepare them for higher education. It is also imperative that our schools work together to create curriculum and educational opportunities so that students are prepared for each new learning challenge as they continue on their journey.
KURFMAN: Financially, there is a real chance our district will face the difficult combination of less revenue as a side effect of COVID at the same time as we see increased enrollment due to our growing Philomath community. Besides likely fiscal challenges, we will need to ensure our schools are welcoming, safe places for all students to learn and all families to enter. As a strong, closely knit district, we have the chance to evolve together to meet new challenges and opportunities that will surely arise.
Q-AND-A WITH THE CANDIDATES The Philomath News sent each candidate five questions as part of a Q-and-A feature. Each candidate was limited to 100-word answers on each question.
Click on the links below to read the Q-and-A features for each School Board seat up for election:
POSITION 1: RICK WELLS POSITION 3: JOE DEALY, BRITTANY KENNEDY, ABIGAIL KURFMAN POSITION 4: ERIN GUDGE, JOEY McGLINCHY Note: McGlinchy’s name appears on the ballot but he has withdrawn from consideration.