In Our View: Christiansen for VPS Pos. 3

School board candidate’s strong financial background gives her edge

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As problems go, voters in the Vancouver Public Schools district are faced with a good one. The race for Position 3 on the school board features two strong candidates who are capable of being effective and forward-thinking board members.

The Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends a vote for Heather Christiansen in the contest to succeed Kathy Gillespie, who is not seeking re-election. Christiansen’s background in finance and business — she is director of global legal services for FLIR Systems, based in Wilsonville, Ore. — gives her a slight edge in a contest against Wendy Smith.

As always, this is merely a recommendation; The Columbian trusts that voters will study the candidates and examine the issues before casting an informed ballot. To help with that research, we recommend a video of the editorial board’s interview with the candidates.

Both Christiansen and Smith have young children in Vancouver schools, and they agree that the district has been on a positive trajectory in recent years. Vancouver’s on-time graduation rate has gone from 64 percent to 80 percent; schools have worked to meet the needs of underserved students, notably by establishing a series of Family-Community Resource Centers; and the district has been at the forefront of high-tech instruction.

But there also are possible roadblocks ahead. The Legislature voted this year to alter how public schools are funded in an effort to meet the mandate of the state Supreme Court’s McCleary v. Washington decision, and that could lead to changes in local school levies. Vancouver schools also will be implementing a $458 million bond approved by voters in February. The bond will pay for most of the cost to replace eight schools, modernize four schools and Kiggins Bowl, improve 24 campuses, and build three new schools to accommodate a growing district.

Christiansen’s professional experience will be beneficial as Vancouver Public Schools navigates toward the educational system of the future, and she praises the district’s strategic plan. She supports the development of additional magnet schools to provide expanded choice, and while she demonstrates a strong understanding of issues facing Vancouver schools, she does not have the same depth of knowledge regarding federal education policy.

Smith, meanwhile, is a teacher at Heritage High School in the Evergreen district. She is well-versed on educational policy — both at the local and national levels — and would be an articulate advocate for teachers and students. “I know which questions to ask,” she told the editorial board, “so when that policy is implemented, it’s a policy that’s going to work.” She says her experience as a teacher would be beneficial for the school board — “diversity of voices is what makes a board strong” — and she has been endorsed by the Vancouver Education Association.

Smith would, indeed, be a strong addition to the board, but Christiansen’s strengths are better suited to the needs of Vancouver Public Schools at this time.

Christiansen has served on the district’s management task force and has been a classroom volunteer, and she told The Columbian: “The VPS school board has to play a pivotal role in allocating resources to fund programs such as FCRC so that students are optimally ready to learn and succeed in school.”

The Columbian recommends a vote for Heather Christiansen for Position 3 on the board of Vancouver Public Schools.