Who I am and what I believe

I’ve had the opportunity to speak to some of the Parkrose parent group meetings to introduce myself and who I am as a board member and candidate. Below is what I’ve shared with those groups.

I’m Sara Kirby wife, and mom of two kids at Prescott. I’m also a senior solid waste planner at Metro. We’ve lived in our little house by the Parkrose Middle School for 11 years. I was appointed to the school board in 2016 to fill a vacancy because I wanted to know more about our district and serve. Two years ago I was won my seat in a contested race for the remaining two years of the term. Now I’m running for a full four year term. I’ve served our district for three and  half years, I’d like to serve for four more.

School should be an engaging, empowering and transformative experience for all students. Because of three decades of chronic statewide underfunding, less is available to Oregon public school students today than when we were kids. Fewer programs, more high-stakes testing, less time being active and fewer elective and enrichment choices.

I stand for

  • Proven, effective equitable strategies that help Parkrose students reach their potential

  • A welcoming, safe environment where all students and staff are respected

  • Thoughtful, evidence-based decisions

  • Advocating for the resources our students need to bring back the programs and opportunities our students have lost

  • Inclusive community engagement practices

  • Collaborative leadership to serve our community

Some very good things are happening in Parkrose School District. Graduation rates are up, new inclusive community engagement strategies are getting more, diverse, voices to the table, all our schools are improving. I am asking for your support to continue serving all Parkrose students as a member of the school board.

As school board members we are elected officials, yet we only have power in the action of a majority board vote. We must work collaboratively to accomplish our goals and do the work of the district. We are in a collaborative leadership relationship with our Superintendent. We are essentially a citizen oversight committee.  

The number one job of a school board is to recruit, retain, supervise, evaluate and support our single employee, the Superintendent. The Superintendent, in turn, is the executive at the district. Put another way the Superintendent at Parkrose has five supervisors that may have individual opinions but only have the power to give direction through a majority vote. We’ve got some other roles too, passing a budget and calendar, approving policies, etc.  

A school district is only as strong and functional as its school board. Nobody wants to work for a dysfunctional supervisor. That’s why open, respectful, collaborative, communication and relationships on the board are essential.

When I became board chair in July, with the agreement of the board, I instituted new meeting management practices to ensure speaking time of board members was balanced and all board members felt respected in the meetings. Together, we developed new “Board Norms”.

I’m proud to say that all five board members rated this standard “excellent” and had complimentary things to say about the way I’ve managed meetings and processes I’ve put in place in our February self-evaluation. You can find the full school board self evaluation in our February 11th Work Session Packet.

As board chair I’ve demonstrated steady, thoughtful and professional leadership to appropriately address uncomfortable situations on the board. Accountability for elected officials can only come through peers and elections. Board Business Meetings and some Work Sessions are recorded and posted on the district website. You can watch a meeting video at any time. The January business meeting and February work session videos show some highlights of my leadership.

I have a lot to say about school funding. From my view and experience on the board the root issue in Parkrose is a long term, and significant, lack of funding from the state. For over a decade schools across the state, not just Parkrose, have faced cut budgets. In this school year we faced a $1.6 million shortfall, that’s why we had to cut five days. In the upcoming two years we are looking at $4-5 million more in cuts. That’s on top of the 20% we’ve been down in budget and staff as a result of cuts since 2008.

We have good systems and programs in place in Parkrose. During this decade of cuts we’ve made progress in some of our most persistent disparities and there is still more work to do. Our superintendent is forward thinking and ready to act should we get the repair and invest revenue the state legislature is talking about.

I can answer questions related to budget specifics, please send me a message,  but I want to tell you what I’m out doing. I am out advocating every chance I get with our legislature. I’ll go back to last fall for brevity. In September I attended meetings and testified to the Joint Committee on Student Success. In January I went to the town hall at the grange with Senator Michael Dembrow, Rep. Alissa Kinny-Guyer and and Rep. Barbara Smith Warner I spoke again about what our school needs. Last month I went to the coffee for Rep. Smith Warner at the Maywood campus and five days later testified to the Ways and Means committee about funding. My Ways and Means testimony made the local TV news, my Joint Committee on Student Success testimony made OPB radio and print stories. I’m hopeful that means what I have to say is compelling, given that dozens of folks testify at these things.

Also last month I attended a meeting with the three superintendents and board chairs of school districts in Portland the mayor and chief of police, related to school districts paying for School Resource Officers from the State School Fund. It was my second meeting at city hall on this issue.  When Assistant Chief Lee rattled off the staffing and money numbers of why they needed our kids money, I met him with all the numbers about why our kids money is staying in our district.

I say all this because I want to convey my depth of passion for our kids and our district and my ability to step outside my personal comfort zone. I’m really an introvert at heart, my husband will tell you I hate being the center of attention, I don’t want a song sung at me in a restaurant for my birthday, I like to keep a low profile. I put myself out there to be an effective advocate for our kids.    

A little bit more about myself. I had an unstable childhood coming from a family facing poverty and addiction issues. I went to three different elementary schools, three middle schools and two high schools. As a smart, poor, white kid public education was my pathway to the life I wanted. I was the first in my immediate family to get a college degree. Had I been a smart, poor, student of color data shows my success would have been SIGNIFICANTLY less likely.

All too often we can fall into the trap of believing that by “celebrating diversity” we have “done equity”. Celebrating diversity is a good first step, and one we’ve been doing for a while in Parkrose as evidenced by our many successful multicultural nights. It is not a final step.

For the second year in a row I am a part of the Regional School Board Equity Group. Boards in Multnomah County looked at our data, our persistent achievement and discipline disparities, and decided we needed to work collectively.

These trainings have been put on by the Center for Equity and Inclusion. We have been working with the idea that, recognizing diversity, the differences you can and cannot see, is a first step. Equity is a process to get to equal outcomes through trainings, programs, services and changes to policy and allocation of resource to folks that are experiencing disparities, that gets us to a place of inclusion, where folks experiencing disparities are included in the decision making, where they feel welcome and valued and where their outcomes become equal.    

Two years ago, before I participated in the Regional School Board Equity Group, I was able to attend a six week series called “Reclaiming my Time” put on by Resolutions Northwest. This series centered the voices and stories of Black and Native women and their experiences with systemic and institutional racism. As a woman who identifies as white, it was my job to listen and resist centering myself or my own opinion. It was a powerful experience.

This is often why, if you see me in meeting, I’m listening more than I’m talking. As a board member “my say” comes through a majority board vote, to adopt a policy or allocate funding to a program or service. It’s vital I deeply listen, consider and understand the experiences of, and impacts to, historically marginalized people in the decisions we make as a board.

This is also why after what happened to our girls basketball team I showed at games in Scappoose and at home. As an elected leader and member of our board showing up is the least I can do. I’m also, along with the rest of the board, working with the superintendent to make real, lasting change in OSAA policy.

I mentioned at the start of my statement I work in garbage and recycling policy. I had the honor of working with a man who was instrumental in establishing recycling programs in Oregon. He passed away several years ago, he always said “know what’s right, do what’s right”. His motto guides me as a professional public servant, and as an elected one.

I’m happy to take questions through my facebook page facebook.com/sarakirby4parkrose or email at sarakirby4parkrose@gmail.com

Sara Kirby