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May 26, 2022

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Election decides 5 school board positions

Incumbents prevail in races in several education districts

By , Columbian staff writer
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Voters across Clark County decided on a number of school board positions in various districts on Tuesday night.

Evergreen Public Schools District 1

Incumbent Julie Bocanegra defeated Mike Appel to win the District 1 spot, with 60.52 percent of voters showing support for Bocanegra.

Bocanegra has served since 2012, and was selected to the Washington State School Directors Association Board last fall. This marks the start of Bocanegra’s third term in office. On various occasions, she has noted her top priority is to maintain open lines of communication between parents and board members as issues such as vaccinations, critical race theory and sex education continue to draw attention in meetings.

“I’m proud that my community has shown the faith in me to stay in this position,” Bocanegra said. “It’s been a hard year and a half, and I’m excited to continue in building the district up. We’re stronger because of this.”

Appel, who works as a procurement and supply specialist at WSU Vancouver, has repeatedly criticized Evergreen’s education of race and sex in schools — something he likens to indoctrination. Appel could not be reached for comment on Tuesday night.

Evergreen Public Schools District 5

Incumbent Ginny Gronwoldt defeated Amanda Breck to win the District 5 spot, with 62.29 percent of voters showing support for Gronwoldt.

Though she was first elected later in 2017, Gronwoldt, too, has deep roots in the Vancouver community. Previously, she served as the president of the Evergreen School District Foundation and the parent-teacher association at York Elementary School. Gronwoldt, a mother of three children in Evergreen schools, said that she will continue to prioritize the needs of the students above all else in her next term.

“There is always room for improvement, and we continue to grow through our service and are committed to building a strong team and culture and to always be better and do better in service to our students,” Gronwoldt wrote in a Columbian questionnaire.

Breck is also a mother of children in Evergreen schools, and feels that the district has overstepped its bounds in the implementation of mask mandates and vaccination mandates for teachers. Neither candidate could be reached for comment on Tuesday night.

Vancouver Public Schools Position 2

Sandra Zavala-Ortega defeated Michelle Belkot to win the Position 2 spot. Results on Tuesday night showed Zavala-Ortega with 55.94 percent of the vote.

Zavala-Ortega was appointed to the position earlier this year following the resignation of Camara Banfield, who was named to the Clark County Superior Court bench. Previously, Zavala-Ortega worked as a family-community resource center coordinator and an interpreter at Harney Elementary School. Her April appointment marked Zavala-Ortega as the first Latina member of the Vancouver School Board, she said in a July remote meeting with The Columbian’s Editorial Board.

“I’m so humbled that my message resonated with the community,” Zavala-Ortega said.

Belkot’s campaign has centered around criticisms that the school board should consider the opinions of parents before implementing regular coronavirus testing and mask requirements — just a few examples of actions she deems that has made Vancouver’s educational landscape overly politicized.

Zavala-Ortega said she is excited to continue her role on the board, which she said allows her to finally represent the nearly 30 percent of Vancouver that represents the Latino population. She aims to prioritize working on the district’s equity policy, which promotes increased awareness and education of diversity in curriculum and staffing in the district.

“I just feel so excited to continue my time on the board,” she said.

Vancouver Public Schools Position 3

Incumbent Wendy Smith defeated Jorge Bailey in Position 3, with early results showing Smith with 62.09 percent of the vote.

Smith, a teacher at Heritage High School, is a graduate of Vancouver Public Schools and emphasizes how a lot of work will need to be done not just now, but over the next few years to heal the wounds of the pandemic.

“I feel this is a real affirmation of the work the board and our district has done throughout the pandemic in prioritizing student health and safety,” Smith said. “I’m thrilled to get another four years in the position.”

Her challenger, Jorge Bailey, could not be reached for comment. On Facebook, he has repeatedly condemned the education of history and diversity throughout the district — something that Smith has touted as a success story she wants to improve upon.

Smith will first work on the district’s equity policy, and then turn her attention to the larger strategic plan. The first step, she said, will be to identify which issues are most reflective of the priorities of the community.

Battle Ground Public Schools District 1

Incumbent Mary Snitily defeated Choe Seppala to win in District 1, with 56.85 percent of voters showing support for Snitily.

Snitily served in various roles in education for more than 20 years, something she said led her to develop a broad understanding of education at both the classroom and administrative level. Prior to the election, she expressed support for the replacement levy, noting that it would primarily benefit students. “As frustrated as we all are with the current mandates and restrictions, a no vote is not a vote against mandates. It is a vote against kids,” Snitily said in a questionnaire to The Columbian.

Snitily said she was pleased to see the levy passed, and that it allows for the district to complete many of the goals they have in the coming years. “I’m very honored to represent this community, and especially the kids,” Snitily said.

Seppala, a media relations coordinator at Church on the Rock in Battle Ground, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday night. In a statewide survey for school board candidates, she expressed that she felt curriculums in the district were too politicized and that classrooms should remain nonpartisan. Snitily said that she enjoyed the campaign process and met with Seppala a handful of times. She described Seppala as someone with true passions for education, and hopes to see more from her going forward.

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