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Herman Greene, senior pastor at Abundant Life PDX Church, is running for the Portland School Board seat in Zone 4. Gary Hollands, owner of Interstate Trucking Academy, is running for the Portland School Board seat in Zone 5. Reiko Williams, principal of Sabin Elementary School, is running for the Portland Community College Board seat in Zone 7.
Saundra Sorenson
Published: 07 April 2021

In the May 18 election, three Black candidates have filed to run for a seat on either the Portland Public School Board or the Board of Directors at Portland Community College.

Each position is a four-year term that ends June 30, 2025. School board positions are unpaid but notoriously time-consuming, with previous board members comparing them to full-time jobs, often with overtime.

The Skanner spoke with the three candidates about their visions for providing Black students with better education outcomes in kindergarten through 12th grade and beyond.

Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Herman Greene

Portland School District, Zone 4, to replace Rita Moore

herman greene introHerman Greene (Shawnte Simms photography)Herman Greene serves as senior pastor at Abundant Life PDX Church. He spent 20 years ministering to inmates in correctional settings, including Columbia River, Coffee Creek, and Oregon State Prison, and holds a master's in organizational leadership and in nonprofit development, both from Warner Pacific University.

Greene is running for a seat on the school board against Margo Logan, former investigator for child protective services and owner of Child Care Consulting LLC, and Brooklyn Sherman, a student at Portland State University. Previous candidates Erin Michele Brown, Anna Metnick, Tammy Correa, and Brett Duesing filed but have since withdrawn from the race.

Social Worker Jaime Cale, who identifies as Black and Indigenous, is running for the same seat as a write-in candidate.

 

The Skanner News: What in your background has compelled you to run for a seat on the school board?

Herman Greene: I have four children, and all of my kids went through Portland public schools. We’ve always lived in the same six-mile radius in North Portland.

My kids went to John Ball before it was Rosa Parks, they went to Peninsula, then they went to Roosevelt. All my kids graduated from Roosevelt, they all got academic scholarships and went on to college. My oldest daughter is now a teacher at Roosevelt High School, and my wife is the girls’ basketball head coach.

I’ve always believed in the kids in this community, I’ve always believed they needed someone to really just set the dominoes up for them so they can knock them down. Our kids need the opportunities, they need to have a voice at the table, they need a seat at the table. And every single time you give our kids an opportunity to be their best selves, they always show up.

I’m running because I want to give them that opportunity in the policy and the procedures when we start looking at the budgets. Every decision that we make, when we start talking about the money we’re spending, if it’s not impacting our kids, then why are we talking about it? When we start talking about who we’re going to give contracts to, we need to be talking about that from the perspective of how it’s going to benefit and uplift our kids.

 

TSN: What do you see as the greatest obstacles to BIPOC students receiving equitable education experiences and opportunities in PPS?

HG: I would say our desire to say we want equality, to make sure that all kids have the same thing. Right now, that’s just not working out so well for students of color. If we’re really going to focus on equity, we need to throw away the idea, I think, of equality, and start really focusing on equity, which means that sometimes you have to take a little bit more from those that have more so that we can make sure that those that don’t have enough have as much.

From a political perspective, that don’t sit well.

From the school board, when we start looking at our budget, we need to be looking at the budget with the (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) students in mind. We need to start looking at the budget from the perspective of saying, how are we going to address the disparities that we’re seeing in our lower-income schools? Let’s start there. And then how are we making sure that the teachers that are in these low-income schools, the schools that have seen the most disparity, how are we making sure that we’re creating an environment where they want to be there? That we’re paying them enough to do the work that needs to be done, that they’re not going into their pockets to buy resources.

We look at our budget from the perspective of the BIPOC students first -- not what’s left over, not a trickle-down -- and then we’re going to go from there.

 

TSN: How do you feel schools could better prepare students for education and career after high school?

HG: If we really want to do it, we have to do a lot more work downstream. My question is, how are we getting the kids ready for middle school? You’ve got kids that are going into middle school that aren’t ready to be there because they’re not reading at the right levels...And then when they get to high school, instead of waiting until they’re juniors to start talking to them about what it’s going to be like in college and different careers, why don’t we position them as freshman?

We tell them “Everybody should go to college.” That’s a lie. Everybody should have the ability to go to college. Not everybody is going to be successful in college. Some people work with their hands, that’s just the way that they’re wired. What we need to do is start working with trades and different career (pathways) so that as freshman, we can introduce them to apprenticeship programs and different things, so that by the time they get out of high school, they’ve already done an apprenticeship program and they can jump right into a career.

We do a great job getting kids to college. We do a horrible job positioning kids to stay in college and graduate from college.

So as a school board member, I want us to look at the expectations that we’re putting on our students and stop believing that our students can’t be successful if we set a bar. Our kids will rise to the occasion every single time. They just need to know that this is the bar. It’s our job to make sure they reach the bar.

I can’t go into a school and tell the schools what to do. But I can start looking at the dollars that we’re spending and saying, how is this dollar getting this child ready for a career once they leave high school?

 

TSN: How would you have liked to see the return to in-person instruction handled?

HG: I’d like to see that we have made sure that it’s going to be safe for our kids to go back to school. I want to make sure we’ve got enough staff, that we’ve got enough custodians to keep it clean. We’ve done a lot of improvements on our schools, and we’ve got more space to clean. Do we have enough staff on hand right now to ensure that the buildings our kids are going to be going back into are clean? And that they’re going to be ready for our students to not just learn, but learn safely. If we’re still requiring six feet of social distancing when we go in most businesses in the state, why would we change it for a school to say now we can have three feet in school? What have we done with our ventilation? It’s not good enough to just pass.

If we want to open our doors back up, let’s do it the right way. For every parent that wants their kid to go back to school, not one of them will say, ‘I’m willing for my child to die so that we can get our kids back to school so that I can go back to work.’

Going back to school has gotten political, and it’s gotten financial. If we can work, then we need to work. But at what cost? We need to weigh out every possibility, every scenario. You can’t learn if you’re not around.

 

The Skanner Breaking News

Gary Hollands

Portland School District, Zone 5, to replace board vice chair Scott Bailey

gary hollands introGary Hollands Gary Hollands owns Interstate Trucking Academy and serves as executive director of the Albina Sports Program. He studied electronic engineering at Fort Valley State University and business administration at Portland State University.

Hollands is running against physician Daniel Rodgers. Previous candidate Chris Hero filed but has since withdrawn from the race.

 

The Skanner News: What in your background has compelled you to run for a seat on the school board?

Gary Hollands: I always had a passion for our youth, and I think that stems from my background growing up, moving around a lot. My mother was on drugs at the time, and I think because I never got that sense of family growing up, when I became of age, I wanted to make sure all my little cousins had what I didn’t have. That just culminated as I started my family, joining the PTA, doing field trips, all the way up through now. I’m executive director of Albina Sports Program, which deals with youth and their abilities to participate in organized sports without the financial burdens that come along with organized sports.

We have four kids, three girls, one boy. When my kids were going to school, it was a lot different from when I was going to PPS. A lot of the offerings that they’d have, they didn’t have anymore. There was no more shop class, there was no more home ec. classes. The combination of all those things is what prompted me to say, let me see how I can move the needle a little bit while I’m on the school board.

 

TSN: What do you see as the greatest obstacles to BIPOC students receiving equitable education experiences and opportunities in PPS?

GH: There’s been historical barriers that have always been ahead of our Black and brown and indigenous kids. A lot of people have said it’s systemic racism, and I tell everybody, whether it’s popular or not, look at it as systemic terrorism, because it’s something that has been intentionally done by our government, our society, to us all the way back to the time when they weren’t allowing us to read or write or go to school, all the way to integration. It’s a sad thing when you have to have the National Guard come in and escort a five- or six-year-old girl to school. That’s not just racism to me, that’s terrorism because that was intentionally done to us.

One, I think we have to recognize what happened, that this was systemic terrorism, and just like America, we should not negotiate with terrorism.

There should be no barriers to what we need to do to bring our kids up.

There should be no barriers to making sure they’ve got the resources they need to succeed. I think by having that viewpoint, and looking at that, now you can really look at what we need to do to get our kids an equitable education moving forward.

You have to talk to the teachers. I’ve been talking to teachers since before I decided to run, and ask them, what things can we actually do from the teacher level to help our kids? You have to look at even the families, there’s a lot of social and economic issues that they deal with. I’m not saying the school district is to try to fix all that, but just recognizing that they do have these issues, and then you teach to the child, not to the test. You don’t teach to graduation rates and records. You teach to the child. If you know a child didn’t eat, or maybe they had an argument with mom about the lights not being on, those things you just have to be aware of.

To get those obstacles out of the way, I think we have to be as intentional to give them education as the government was to deny them education.

 

TSN: How do you feel schools could better prepare students for education and career after high school?

GH: There is a constant squeeze of programs to go towards the four-year college track, and with that, 30% of our kids don’t go to college. And then of the ones that do go, 43% of those end up getting jobs that don’t require a college degree anyway. We have to look at that and ask whether we’re educating the whole kid.

We have to give those kids at least some tools to be able to function out here as an adult.

One of my priorities is to increase the career and technical education (CTE) vocational offerings that the schools have. I think that it’s so important, because those jobs that are out there are great jobs to have. I’m also the owner of Interstate Trucking Academy, and we run a trucking company as well. The goal was to be able to look at how we get PPS to expose kids to something like the trucking industry, the electrician industry, the carpentry industry, construction industry.

Being exposed to that in school will definitely help those who are not looking to go to college, and at the very minimum, give them other options to at least look at, as opposed to having the mindset ‘I have to go to college to make it.’ Exposing kids to more options is always going to be best because you never know what a kid is going to gravitate towards.

 

TSN: How would you have liked to see the return to in-person instruction handled at PPS?

GH: I think we look at the science one way, and I also think parents have to be comfortable. That’s one thing that is lacking: what the parents’ and students' comfortability is.

I think a lot of things are not being communicated effectively. The district could’ve said, ‘You know what? This is not going to be perfect. We’re going to try and see what happens. Those that are comfortable with this, let’s try to do it as safe as possible. Those that are not, we understand, and let’s try this again in the fall.’

I think that communication is going to be key and crucial so everybody can really understand where we’re at. Whether they agree with it or not, if you’re communicating, at least they have that information and they can make the choices that’s best for them.

You might want to do some listening sessions, or communication sessions. Once I’m on the board, I plan to have listening sessions every month. I want to do them with administration, with teachers, with parents. And even our unions. One listening session every month for those four groups. Two things can happen: One, they feel they’re being heard, and two, now we can communicate, saying ‘Hey, this is what’s happening at the board level, and this is why we’re doing it.’ If you’re going to govern effectively, you listen to what the request is, you listen to what some of those issues are, and the ones you take note of are the ones that are common things among groups. That’s what you should tackle.

The communication piece is really huge. And let people know, things change, this is not a fluid issue. Communicating that with parents and teachers, letting them know, being ok with saying, we’re trying stuff out. I don’t expect everyone to agree with everything, but I want them to have that knowledge.

Reiko Mia Williams

Portland Community College, Zone 7, to replace Alexander Diaz Ros

reiko mia williams introReiko Mia Williams Reiko Williams is the principal of Sabin Elementary School and founder of Young, Gifted, and Black.

Williams holds a master's of social work from Howard University, a master's of education policy and leadership from PSU, and is close to completing her doctorate in education policy and leadership at PSU.

She is running against Kristi Wilson, workforce development manager for the city of Hillsboro.

 

The Skanner News: What in your background has compelled you to run for a seat on the board of directors?

Reiko Williams: I got a graduate degree in social work a long time ago. My first job was investigating child abuse and neglect on the outskirts of (Washington DC) for the Department of Social Services.

I’ve worked in child welfare and in nonprofit social work kind of roles, and then I transitioned into education. I worked for a foundation, KC Family Programs, here in Portland. I worked for probably four years in social work, and then transitioned to PSU, where I was the assistant director of minority recruitment.

I think the throughline for me has always been working to support marginalized communities, especially communities of color. I absolutely loved going to high schools and reservations and community-based organizations and doing financial aid, admissions, and scholarship essay-writing workshops for students and inviting them to the campus, just expanding access for students, because I believe strongly in education.

I took advantage of the benefits of working at the university, and began a doctoral program in education, and then I started working at PCC on a part-time basis. I helped students at PCC enroll in upper division courses on the campus of PCC so they never had to go to PSU to get a degree.

And then from there, I did advising and counseling. I got an administrator’s license, became assistant principal at Rosa Parks in Portland, and then this principalship opened up. All the while I’ve worked in nonprofits and championed social justice and racial equity efforts in my personal and professional life.

As a board member, I will definitely champion opportunities for K-12 students to have greater access to PCC and vice versa, because I think there are a lot of opportunities the school districts can provide for students, and I think there are more early opportunities and information. And more broadly beyond students, I think about their families, and the lack of access to the benefits of community college.

And that’s the lens that I bring that is not currently represented on the board. You have a lot of industry people, or workforce people, but you don’t have K-12, and you don’t have people with the social work direct service background that I have.

My mom had my brother when she was 18, she had me at 19, and she dropped out of school and got her GED. And it was a community college in Baltimore that provided access to opportunity. She did a program at the community college to get her license as a licensed practical nurse and then continued her education. These were opportunities that shaped me as a little girl. When I was sick from school, she would take me to her college classes with her. She was the first of her mother’s children to go to college, and I think it opened doors for her siblings to consider other opportunities. And my uncles worked in the trades industry, but apprenticeship programs and all those kinds of things were ways in which my family gained access to livable wage, professional opportunities.

So I don’t just know intellectually the benefits, I know it personally because I’ve seen within my own family the benefits of those opportunities.

My life was shaped by my own mother’s experience as a single mom. And I am the single mother of three daughters. Or, I’m a mother who is single. People have certain biases about what that means, that it’s rooted in deficit. I don’t see my role as a mother who happens to be single and unmarried in any deficit-oriented way.

 

TSN: What do you feel are the greatest obstacles to BIPOC students receiving equitable education experiences and opportunities?

RW: I think representation. Just like in the K-12 system, there's a lack of representation in staffing and at all levels of the organization. Including the board. So I feel that you have to build a critical mass of diverse instructors, administrators, support staff, at all levels of the organization for folks to feel like they have a place and that their experience is valued. And I think without that, there are messages that you get when you are in a place that’s not diverse, that’s homogenous, about whose perspectives are valued and whose voices are important.

A lot of these institutions say ‘We have this workforce diversity development person, and we have this initiative, and we struggle to find qualified candidates of color.’ I think it’s really not about the struggle as much as it is the will. If you really have the will, where you allocate resources will reflect that it’s a priority. But I think we still have a lot of gatekeepers in different roles, and a lot of people who are unwilling to challenge the status quo.

One of the challenges I’ve had is that in schools that are largely White, the perspective at the leadership level is, ‘Well, if our student population should be mirrored in the staff population, and we have an all-White population, we don’t have any work to do.’

It’s even more important, because white students benefit from seeing a diversity of people in leadership roles as well.

 

TSN: How do you feel community college could better prepare students of color for the workforce?

RW: I think that there’s a connection between PCC and K-12, and I don’t think the opportunity has materialized. PCC has 60,000 students. The school district employs 12,000 people in a variety of roles. And we have relationships with the universities to do internships or teaching practicums.

And then we have people who languish in these paraprofessional roles who, if they had access to continuing educational opportunities like the Portland Teachers Program, would grow. I just think there’s so many opportunities for this connective tissue that are not that difficult.

We have parents of students who struggle financially. We have a food pantry and we give out gift cards and we do a lot of band-aiding. What if we provided access and support for families to continue their education? I think a lot of families are not having access because their own K-12 experience was problematic, because they didn’t see someone who connected or inspired them. They felt like outsiders in their schooling experience.

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