Anacortes School Board

From left, Meredith McIlmoyle, Celese Stevens, Diana Farnsworth and Erik Schorr.

The Anacortes School Board is set to have two new faces on it.

Board members Bobbilynn Hogge and Erin Rieger are not seeking re-election. Both of their seats are at-large, meaning they represent the whole district.

Celese Stevens and Meredith McIlmoyle will face off Nov. 2 for Hogge's seat, while Erik Schorr and Diana Farnsworth are running for Rieger's seat.

Position 1

Stevens, a small-business owner, is running because she said she feels parents in the district have concerns about issues in the district, just as she does.

"I have listened to the concerns and hopes of many community members, parents and teachers in the past year, and I believe we need a return focus on academic excellence," she told Skagit Publishing.

The biggest issue facing the district right now, Stevens said, was pandemic-related learning loss.

To address it, she said the district needs to keep assessing the breadth of the problem, which includes family engagement, and possibly more robust individual or small-group tutoring opportunities.

"We have an amazing community with many well-qualified volunteers that are willing to help meet students where they’re at," Stevens said.

McIlmoyle, the executive director at the Anacortes Arts Festival, said she is running for a position after years of volunteering in schools and on serving on parent organizations.

"(The Anacortes School District) is filled with smart, caring and forward-thinking educators and staff," she told Skagit Publishing. "I want to support them in identifying where we can do better as a district and in finding the tools for them to be successful in their challenging jobs."

The biggest issue facing the district is divisive politics and the distraction that can have, McIlmoyle said.

"As a community and as a school district, we will have to find ways to manage and meet parent concerns and not let it distract us from the most important job of educating and caring for our students," she said.

The opponents have different views on Gov. Jay Inslee's mandate that all district staff, students and visitors wear masks in school buildings.

"Let’s consider focused attention on the ways of mitigation that are not harmful to our kids and that don’t inhibit learning and development, like air purification and cleaning practices," Stevens said. "A parent-choice policy would allow for ALL of our kids to find school as a safe educational environment as it was intended."

While masking is one of the measures the district has taken to keep staff and students safe, ultimately, McIlmoyle said, the decision was not the school board's to make.

"At this time, it is a law that our students and staff be masked at school and therefore, there is no question whether it should be followed or not," McIlmoyle said. "We have a responsibility to follow the law and to do the best we can for all of our students."

Position 2

For Rieger's seat, small-business owner Schorr faces librarian Farnsworth.

"I believe in the value of public education and would like to contribute to strengthening the Anacortes School District’s reputation as one of the top districts in Washington state," Schorr told Skagit Publishing.

The biggest issue facing the district is pandemic-related learning loss, he said.

"Although I feel like our district did the best that it could during the pandemic, the kids essentially lost more than a year of learning," he said. "It is vital to work tirelessly to help the students catch up with this academic loss."

To address the issue, the district needs to focus all of its resources and time to get kids caught up, he said.

Farnsworth also said pandemic-related learning loss is the district's biggest challenge.

"Right now, the biggest obstacle the district faces is how to ensure that all students are back in school feeling safe and secure," she told Skagit Publishing. "That after so much upheaval, they feel confident in their coursework, and that we have the staffing and resources to make that happen."

The district needs to take a holistic approach to pandemic-related learning loss, focusing on building up all students.

"If we listen to students, and provide them with mental health resources, challenging academic options, and accessible support when they need it, we can not only catch them up, but hopefully keep raising them up to collective greater success," she told Skagit Publishing.

As a librarian, Farnsworth said she has been working with the district for years. A seat on the school board would allow her to continue working alongside students and families, she said.

Over the past year, Farnsworth said the community has dealt with a lot of "fear and frustration" that has been targeted at the district. The community needs to work together to move beyond that, she said, including by not arguing over whether or not masks should be required in school. 

Schorr said he was concerned the impact wearing masks would have on the educational development of students, particularly the younger ones.

"We are told that these are temporary measures but for the youngest students masking has already covered a significant portion of their lives," he said. "The indefinite nature of the masking requirements seems problematic for primary school learning."


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