Focus on equity and access earns Alicia Hays 2020 School Board Member of the Year
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Too often when OSBA Executive Director Jim Green shows up at a school board meeting, it’s because something difficult has happened and he must offer counsel.
So it was with great pleasure, he said, that he joined the Eugene School Board’s meeting Wednesday night to announce Alicia Hays as the 2020 Oregon School Board of the Year.
The award honors outstanding volunteers who make a real difference in their communities. Hays’ dedicated work on equity issues, especially for students who sometimes are overlooked, has earned her colleagues’ esteem.
“She is the advocate for the person who has been marginalized,” said Board Chair Mary Walston.
It’s important to discover which left-out voices, including among students, need to be brought into the decision-making rooms, Hays said in an interview after the award.
Hays said the Black Lives Matter movement has created an equity opportunity. She said people seem to be understanding more and paying attention.
“One of the reasons equity work is so intriguing for me is because when people start understanding it, they can change,” Hays said.
Hays talks often of listening and honoring who students are, but she knows she also has a responsibility as a role model. Hays is a lesbian who has used a wheelchair since high school.
“Kids need to see people in leadership who look like them,” she said.
Hays is a retired director of Lane County Health and Human Services, although she has been temporarily supervising some health work during the pandemic. Coronavirus has increased the intersection of health and education considerations, but her job has always provided her a perspective on the needs of students and the role of schools to help them, she said.
In past years, the School Board Member of the Year has been named at OSBA’s Annual Convention. But with pandemic restrictions shaking things up, OSBA surprised Hays at a virtual board meeting.
As her spouse, Adelka Shawn, brought in balloons, Hays smiled widely. Her son, Jackson Shawn-Hays, videoing in from Washington, D.C., waved and offered congratulations.
OSBA launched the award in 2018. Merle Comfort of the La Grande School District and InterMountain Education Service District and Anne Bryant of the Beaverton School District won previously. The winner receives a commemorative keepsake and a year of free registration for OSBA events and is enshrined on a plaque in OSBA’s Salem office.
Hays is the longest serving member on her board, appointed in 2007. She has served three times as chair and vice chair. Hays helped lead the district both through painful budget cuts and the passage of three construction bonds totaling $559 million and three levy renewals.
“Alicia Hays has provided steadfast leadership, consistently, passionately and effectively advocating for equity and access for all students,” said the nominating form from her district.
Board Chair Walston said the students and school board are better off for Hays’ service.
“Alicia brings a perspective that is always enlightened, fair and equitable and she brings up important points that you may not have thought about but she always does so with gentleness and humor,” she said.
Walston praised Hays’ ability to bring focus to issues in a productive way while remembering that the school board works and acts as a body.
Eugene Interim Superintendent Cydney Vandercar said one of the things she respects most about Hays is her ability to deliver the hard conversations in a way people can hear.
She said Hays forces school leadership to slow down and consider the needs of all students, especially on issues of access, so that all students feel like they are a part of the school.
“She has stood in the fire, sometimes all by herself, when she thought it was the right thing to do,” Vandercar said.