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Aug. 13, 2022

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Three vying for Hockinson School Board Position 1

Falling enrollment key issue for candidates

By , Columbian staff writer

Addressing Hockinson School District’s lower enrollment post-COVID-19 is a priority among the challengers vying for the Hockinson School Board Position 1.

Teresa VanNatta, a teacher in Evergreen Public Schools and a Hockinson business owner, and Bill Eling, an attorney, are facing incumbent Tim Hawkins, who was appointed to the school board last September, in August’s school board primary race.

According to the most recent statewide data from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, enrollment in Hockinson was 8.4 percent lower — 171 students — in 2020-21 than before the pandemic.

In responses to The Columbian, VanNatta said she believes programs, activities, facilities and staffing must be maintained to keep attracting families and students to the district. VanNatta is a teacher in the Evergreen School District and business owner in Hockinson. She said her experience as an educator will be an added bonus to the board.

“I want to uphold the HSD vision and mission statement by raising awareness and encouraging the community to become active participants in our district,” she told The Columbian.

Eling estimates “much of the decline is related to a loss of confidence in the district,” he told The Columbian. But he said he also suspects COVID-19 protocols mandated by the state, remote learning and curricular issues — such as diversity, equity inclusion programs — as other factors.

“But the district didn’t choose to implement these policies on its own,” Eling said. “The majority of the controversial policies are mandated by the state.”

Hawkins, the incumbent, said he was aggressive in pressing against the fear to reopen schools more quickly and safely, but added that he believes the board was “not behaving as leaders in leading (through) the COVID development.”

“We were not tuned into our constituent groups like we should have been and allowed fear to lead our discission making,” Hawkins told The Columbian.

Hawkins said he believes the school board is “very attentive” to the financial needs of the district and focused on hearing from various groups.”

“There is an opportunity for the board to assist in creating a collaborative culture and to open communication with all constituents and drive further financial health,” Hawkins said.

Eling addressed the need to be more forceful on curriculum, not only increasing the board’s involvement on curriculum, but also how it’s executed in the classroom.

“Except for K-3, I would be a proponent of integrating class course materials that challenge the theories underlying the state mandated curriculum.”

As an educator, one of VanNatta’s goals is to maintain the district’s level of excellence by helping the community be more involved in its schools.

“Hockinson Schools welcomes all students, and I want to be sure that every child is seen, heard and valued. I believe in preparing children to think critically today in order to be the future of tomorrow and will apply my extensive public education experiences to meet this goal.”

Position 1 is one of two school board positions up for re-election in Hockinson. Incumbent Patrick Carter is running unopposed in the Position 2 race.

Ballots are mailed out July 16 for the Aug. 3 primary election.

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