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School board membership opens doors for community work
Bend-La Pine School Board member Marcus LeGrand met with Ensworth Elementary School students about Black leadership during Black History Month. The students offered one-word descriptions of themselves. (Photo courtesy of Marcus LeGrand)
Marcus LeGrand had an intense talk with his wife before running for the Bend-La Pine School Board in 2021. She was concerned, and she asked him tough questions about whether he was ready for the scrutiny and accountability.
But LeGrand was tired of racial issues being discussed at board meetings without anyone in the room who looked like him, a Black man.
“Representation matters,” he said.
LeGrand ran and won, and now he says he can make more of an impact in his community. With four seats up for election on his board this year, he has encouraged others to run.
School board candidates have until Thursday, March 16, to file for races. OSBA’s Get on Board campaign offers information about running for office and resources to help recruit new voices and retain school board members with experience in education leadership.
LeGrand grew up on a North Carolina farm before joining the Navy. He moved into the corporate world and relocated to Bend eight years ago. Before running for the school board, he was already engaged with the district as a substitute teacher and as a member of the board budget committee.
Running for school board is a big step, though, and he sought out the advice of past and current board members. LeGrand said he was warned he could be seen as “polarizing” for his passionate engagement.
Bend-La Pine Chair Melissa Barnes Dholakia said LeGrand, who is now the vice chair, has been great to work with because he channels his personal passion into group work. LeGrand came on during a contentious time of pandemic mandates and Black Lives Matter protests, she said, “and it was really brave of him to run.”
LeGrand has persevered despite scary incidents with angry people. He made all his social media private and decided with his wife that he would not use her or their children on camera or put their names out there. OSBA is advocating for a bill, House Bill 3552, that would help protect school board members’ privacy and give them more legal recourse when threatened.
LeGrand sets the difficulties against the triumphs when he talks with students of color and they see in him possibilities for themselves.
He said being a Black man on the board comes with a lot of additional requests on his time, such as being a speaker during Black History Month. He does what he can because he knows how critical it is for students of color to see someone who looks like them in a position of power.
LeGrand, the Central Oregon Community College Afrocentric program coordinator, also runs a leadership program for high school students. Legacy Education Afrocentric Development encourages Black youths and their allies to earn high school diplomas and go on to higher education as well as become well-rounded community members.
LeGrand said he introduces students to “being Black.” The goal is to show them the resources available and their own power to succeed, he said.
The school board has opened doors for LeGrand to deepen his community work, giving him access to people in power who wouldn’t meet with him before.
“It’s a bridge to do so many different things,” LeGrand said.
LeGrand said he has learned a lot about how local government works as well as how to get resources from government agencies to the communities that need it.
Barnes Dholakia said teachers and students of color come to LeGrand with concerns, and she praised his ability to have conversations with the public and the superintendent without turning them into directives.
Superintendent Steven Cook said LeGrand “is a great example of pointing folks to the right people.”
Cook meets with potential school board candidates, and he stresses the need for school board members to separate their policy-related powers from district administrators’ operational role. He says the current board is highly effective, and he hopes the election will continue the collaborative approach.
“I appreciate folks who are thoughtful and want to do good work for public education,” he said.
With four seats open and one incumbent not running again, Bend-La Pine has an opportunity to add different voices.
The Bend-La Pine School District is 81% white and 19% students of color, mostly Latino. Shimiko Montgomery, who is not running for re-election this year, was the only person of color on the board before LeGrand joined. Kina Chadwick, who is also running for re-election, was appointed last year. Chadwick identifies as biracial and with the LGBTQ+ community.
LeGrand must shoulder a lot of responsibility for being a voice for people of color, Barnes Dholakia said, but white school board members also must be “doing our lift” to share in equity and inclusiveness efforts.
Two years ago, Barnes Dholakia co-led meetings with the superintendent to inform people interested in running. This year, Barnes Dholakia is letting the superintendent do it by himself because she will be on the ballot. Still, she says, she is willing to talk with anyone, even a potential opponent.
“We want leaders who are interested in public service and moving the district forward,” she said.
Potential candidates need to know they are joining a board that already has defined goals and a shared strategic plan with the superintendent, she said. Candidates also need to realize what they can and cannot control as a policy-setting board.
LeGrand said understanding that group dynamic has been an important part of his development.
“My voice is powerful, but I know I’m one of seven,” he said.
- Jake Arnold, OSBA