Nordberg first to challenge Arp in Hockinson race

Hockinson race a result of geography, not her initial intent

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter


photoRon Arp


photoKathy Nordberg


Hockinson School Board Candidates

Ron Arp

Age: 50.

Occupation: President of Amplify Group, a public relations and communications firm

Political/community involvement: Current chair, Hockinson School Board (appointed 2008, elected 2009). President, Butkus Foundation, since 2008. Executive committee, Identity Clark County, since 2011. Volunteer, Land Here, Live Here regional identity program, 2010-present. Board of Directors, Taylor Hooton Foundation (appointed 2007). Former board member, Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce (approx. 2005-2008). Former board member, Liberty Bible Church. Former board member, University of Nebraska college of agriculture alumni.

Endorsements: “I have not sought any official endorsements. I think it’s better that way because I’m not receptive to being swayed by special interest groups.”

Campaign finances: Less than $1,000.

Contact information: rarp@amplifygroup... or 360-601-2991.

Kathy Nordberg

Age: 69.

Occupation: Retired Hockinson classroom teacher.

Political/community involvement: Political caucus member, poll watching, campaigning for school levies and U.S. House candidate (Brian Baird). Community-preschool grandparent volunteer, Sunday school teacher, Study Buddies teacher for at-risk students, Hockinson carnival volunteer, Hockinson Fun Days volunteer. Washington Education Association(WEA)/retired member, Hockinson Report Card Committee, initial Hockinson High School Planning Committee, Hockinson Education Association (HEA) negotiator, HEA officer (treasurer), Hockinson Superintendent Search committees, Hockinson Instructional Materials Committee.

Endorsements: Hockinson Education Association, Hockinson Education Support Professionals, Save the Music in Hockinson.

Campaign finances: None reported.

Contact information: kathynordbergcare...; 360-892-9279; www.nordbergcares...; nordberg for hockinson schools.

Ron Arp, a member of the Hockinson School Board since 2008 and its chairman since 2009, has drawn a challenger for the first time -- inadvertently, you might say. Kathy Nordberg, a retired Hockinson classroom teacher with 30 years experience, is running for Arp's four-year post -- but, she confessed, she had hoped to run for a different, vacant seat. It wasn't until she was busy filing to run that election workers got out a magnifying glass and determined that Nordberg' house is just inside in Arp's district.

That's OK, she decided, because a lot of what she wants to bring to the Hockinson School District is openness. "The school is the hub of the whole community," she said. "We need to communicate better with the community, provide transparency and involve more community members. My goal is to listen."

By contrast, she said, she's afraid businessman and marketing expert Arp is a little too top-down and quick to make decisions without communicating adequately with the community. She mentioned the recent approval of a policy that requires all communication between school staff and the board go through the district superintendent.

That flies in the face of Hockinson's nature as the kind of small, tight-knit community where people know each other and feel free to discuss things, she said. "It's never been that way in the past," she said.

Similarly, she said, the board has made decisions about consolidating schools with falling student populations and about rejiggering lunch and elective class schedules without involving the community, she said. It's not that the decisions were wrong, she said, but the community knew little about what was going on until afterward; some parents were pretty unhappy to discover when the school year started that their young children didn't have enough time for lunch or were forced to sit on the cafeteria floor -- by older kids they really shouldn't be sharing lunchtime with, she said.

The same goes for the recent board decision to consolidate Hockinson's primary and secondary schools, which share a campus, into one building in order to save money, she said. Teachers and staffers wanted to be included in a decision-making process, she said, but that's not what happened -- the decision was simply handed down.

"The implication is that it saved a lot of money, but I'd like to see some figures on exactly what that saved us," Nordberg said.

After her telephone interview with The Columbian, Nordberg emailed to temper her criticisms of Arp and the board. She pointed out that a public advisory committee to the school board is now being formed to help improve communications, and that public discussion helped establish new bus routes that saved around $280,000.

Choppy economy

Arp, the president of public relations firm Amplify Group, was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Hockinson board in 2008 and then "prevailed over 'unopposed'" in 2009, he said.

He said his management skills have helped the school district weather choppy economic seas. There have been no teacher layoffs in Hockinson schools during the Great Recession, he noted, and the district even found ways to raise expectations for teachers and students while "running lean on administration." He also mentioned that consolidating bus routes "allowed us to save about a quarter million dollars."

He's proud to have helped hire Sandra Yager, a superintendent whom everyone is pleased with, he said, after a prolonged period of leadership instability.

Arp said the school district continues to face the opposite of growing pains: a shrinking student population. It has already combined its primary and intermediate schools into one K-5 school, which is where you can see a population dip now; over the next few years, he said, that dip will move up through the local middle and high schools.

Given that, he said, it's been important to hold down discretionary expenses as well as personnel expenses. "We have held a firm line with union bosses. That's been a point of sensitivity," he said.

He mentioned the Washington Supreme Court's so-called McCleary decision of 2012, which found that the state has neglected to adequately fund K-12 education, and must do so by 2018. "We all believe in the McCleary decision -- that teachers as a class are underpaid," he said, "but compensation is handled largely at the state level, not the district level. What we can do is enhancements, thanks to local levies."

Arp said sports fields at decade-old Hockinson High School were "not built to meet the letter of Title IX." That's the federal law that guarantees gender equality in education programs, including athletics. "We are working on the plans and permits to expand the capacity of our fields now," he said. "We're working as a district to do that without going back to ask the taxpayers."

There's also the matter of aging Hockinson Middle School, he said. At something like 60 years old it is the oldest facility in the district, Arp said. It has required repairs after earthquakes, he said, and it is located right in the heart of downtown Hockinson. All of which means a chance to think about opportunities, Arp said: "Do we want to move that middle school off Main Street, perhaps to open more business frontage in Hockinson? Or are we comfortable with it where it is? What is the useful life of that building? When will we need a new one? We're definitely in an assessment phase right now."

With all of Hockinson's success, he said, the school district is pilot-testing rigorous new state-mandated evaluations for all staff -- teachers, principals and superintendents.

Two other candidates are running unopposed for vacant Hockinson seats. Steve Nylund is running for the No. 1 seat (the one that Nordberg originally wanted) and incumbent Katherine Davis is running for the No. 5 seat.

The Hockinson School District is a 47-square-mile suburban and rural area southeast of Battle Ground and north of Camas. The K-12 program serves around 1,900 students. School board members can receive no more than $500 in pay per year, according to superintendent's assistant Laurie Lemieux -- but as a matter of local policy and practice, board members always waive that compensation.