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School board members find a lot to talk about at convention
The 76th OSBA Annual Convention in downtown Portland over the weekend provided opportunities for education leaders from around the state to discuss schools’ most important issues face to face. (Photo by Rachel Baker, OSBA)
A successful convention can be measured in the side conversations. At the 76th OSBA Annual Convention in downtown Portland, conversations were breaking out everywhere: in the lobbies, around shared meals and beverages, and after the workshops.
Jay Chick of the Rogue River School Board and Cassie Wilkins of the Grants Pass School Board serve school districts only a few miles apart, but they hadn’t met. Wilkins heard Chick say something interesting in a Friday session and so on Saturday she caught up with him before the general session to talk. Within minutes, they were deep in discussion about behaviors in school.
With nearly 700 registrations from all over Oregon for the Nov. 10 preconference and Nov. 11-13 convention, the event offered a wealth of shared knowledge. Inspiring speakers and dozens of workshops on professional development and current issues started the ball rolling. School board members, administrators, administrative assistants, attorneys and education advocates passionate about helping children kept the energy flowing.
The in-person annual convention returned after a two-year pandemic disruption, giving newer members such as Chick their first chance to be at OSBA’s biggest gathering. He said he was learning a lot and eager to go to more OSBA trainings and conferences.
Wilkins has attended multiple OSBA events. She said she values the time to work not only with her district’s team but also with colleagues from around the state. She said it gives her more people to reach out to when her district is facing an issue.
The political and cultural issues that have charged school board meetings the past couple of years ran through many of the discussions but with a lens that kept them focused on what is best for all students.
Opening keynote speaker Ravi Hutheesing tackled the tension head on Friday morning and told school board members they have to be able to talk about sensitive issues while recognizing there are different viewpoints. Hutheesing talked about the ability to pivot to success in a multicultural and multigeneration environment.
OSBA Executive Director Jim Green reminded school board members on Saturday why they put themselves through all the work: “It’s about kids.”
Noemi Legaspi of the Woodburn School Board, likely the first all-Latino school board in Oregon, said one of the conference’s benefits is giving school board members new ways and new perspectives to think about their students’ lives and how to improve them.
Ashley Espinoza of the Bethel School Board found herself in one of those tough but respectful after-session discussions about equity and opportunities for children. She said acknowledging up front that things could get uncomfortable with a difference of opinion helps the conversations.
Speaker Brandon P. Fleming offered one avenue to lift all students: Love. Fleming was a delinquent, drug-dealing youth who became a Harvard educator training underserved students to become international champion debaters. He said empathy and compassion have the most powerful impacts in young people’s lives.
He said school board members may have differences of opinion but they “share a kindred desire to have impact.”
The OSBA convention is also a celebration. Oregon School Board Member of the Year Becky Tymchuk of the Beaverton School Board, Oregon Superintendent of the Year Sara Johnson of the Crook County School District and Oregon Teacher of the Year Rosa Floyd of the Woodburn School District had turns on stage to thank and to inspire. OSBA also acknowledged recent winners from when the OSBA convention was virtual or canceled.
OSBA noted Leadership Institute certifications for Lilia Caballero of the Medford School Board, Kevin Martin of the Oakridge School Board and Judy Richardson of the North Wasco County School Board. The Leadership Institute recognizes the time and commitment school board members put into training courses.
During the Sunday morning session, OSBA Board President-elect Sonja McKenzie of the Parkrose School Board brought it back to focusing on the needs of all children.
McKenzie is believed to be the first African American OSBA Board president. She said it was an opportunity to have a new voice at the table, and in the coming year, school board members need to listen to each other and find common ground.
The day before, Chick and Wilkins discovered a common ground when Susan Fischer-Maki of the Three Rivers School Board came by. She knew both of them before convention and joined the conversation.
Fischer-Maki said the speakers and sessions were inspiring, but she especially liked being able to expand her circle of school board colleagues to lean on and learn from.
“It’s refreshing to have the opportunity to spend several days talking issues,” she said.
- Jake Arnold, OSBA