The Richardson ISD has called an election for school board trustees for May 7, 2022. Three of the seven seats on the board will be decided. The deadline for candidate filings has closed. We now know who will be on the ballot. Nine candidates have filed for the three seats. It's too early to make recommendations, but it's not too early to have first impressions. As they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Here are mine.
- Eron Linn: He's an incumbent, so my first impression of him was made when he joined the board in 2015. Three years ago, when he last run for re-election, I said, "Linn, as a member of a team of seven that values teamwork, shares the successes of the board and must accept responsibility for the failures." I identified four failures at the time: 1) how the multipurpose activity centers (MACs) were bundled into the all-or-nothing 2016 bond; 2) how the board fumbled the decision to expand White Rock Elementary; 3) how Linn was the sole opposition to the Tax Ratification Election that enabled raises for teachers; and 4) how the board dragged its feet on converting to its 5-2 hybrid voting system, a delay that cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees in a futile effort. Since then, the RISD's troubles have grown much worse. The school board, instead of showing unity and backing the superintendent's strong positions on COVID-19, diversity/equity/inclusion, and social emotional learning, instead broke down into its own divisions, leading to the resignations of both the board president and the school superintendent. Eron Linn, as the senior member of the board, showed no leadership in healing the divisions, perhaps even appearing to be sowing division himself. A qualified alternative must be chosen to heal the wounds.
- Vanessa Pacheco: That qualified alternative for District 2 exists. My impression of Vanessa Pacheco comes from her first run for RISD trustee three years ago. She has the education, background, vision, and temperament to serve on the Board of Trustees. She will advocate for diversity/equity/inclusion in all schools. She will advocate for pre-K for all children. She will advocate for better community engagement, including seeking more dual language teachers. She will advocate for programs, like peer mediation, to reduce the likelihood of bullying and violence. All in all, she has demonstrated that she has original ideas that will be a welcome addition to the school board.
- Guillermo J. Colón: I had never heard of Guillermo J. Colón until he
filed to run for school board. That's not necessarily a knock on him. It might just
mean my sources of information are too limited. A cursory internet search turns up nothing. He's the
proverbial blank slate. It's a steep hill to climb and he's at the bottom.
It'll be interesting to see how much ground he can make up.
Update 2/24/2022: Guillermo J. Colón has withdrawn his candidacy.
- Sherry Clemens: I had never heard of Sherry Clemens until she filed to
run for school board. That's not necessarily a knock on her. It might just
mean my sources of information are too limited. What I've been able to find
out from a cursory internet search is that she appears to have experience as a teacher in Forney, as
an adjunct professor of education at Texas A&M Commerce, and as an
employee at Region 10 service center. All good. Since 2013, she has been
working at a marketing firm in Richardson. Nothing wrong there, either.
Her priorities, as stated on her campaign website, include working "to restore a focus on academics." The word "restore" suggests that maybe she doesn't think RISD is focused on academics now, which if I were a teacher in RISD, I would find insulting. What I find alarming is that the words equity, diversity, and inclusion don't appear anywhere in her campaign material. EDI is one of the most controversial topics in RISD at the moment. Every candidate needs to address it. Her omitting any mention of it on her campaign website might mean she considers it bad for RISD to tackle the issue. Not only can teachers walk and chew gum at the same time, but addressing equity, diversity, and inclusion is a necessary part of a focus on academics. Another priority for Clemens is that "Every parent deserves transparency with curriculum." This suggests that she thinks that the curriculum is not transparent now, that something is being kept from the public. I do not accept the premise. Teachers might even find it insulting. What I understand is that text books can't be made available online because of copyright restrictions, but members of the public are welcome to visit the RISD administration building and review text books and other parts of the curriculum.
If my inferences about Clemens's stances are wrong, I am open to being set straight, but my initial impression of Sherry Clemens is setting off warning bells in my head.
Update: 2/21/2022 15:10: Doing more research, I found Sherry Clemens addressed the school board on January 10, 2022 on the subject of COVID. She was passionate about her daughter being denied an exemption from the face mask mandate in RISD. I don't know the details of her daughter's situation. She wants an exemption. Maybe she's justified. Maybe she isn't. I don't think her trying to litigate it at a school board meeting disqualifies her as a school board candidate, but it doesn't help her in my estimation, either. It's just sad.
Update: 2/21/2022 17:11: Doing even more research, I found Sherry Clemens addressed the school board on October 18, 2021 on the subject of School Health Advisory Council. She said the SHAC is supposed to represent local community values, but felt that the RISD is not ensuring that. She likened it to the "so-called COVID task force, which was really made up of five local doctors who only presented one side of the COVID narrative." On the one hand, I agree with her. For a long time I've believed that the RISD needed broader public participation on committees. On the other hand, if it's a committee to advise on public health, I want medical experts on the committee, not a random sample of parents. Sherry Clemens's stance on this matter strikes me as her wanting anti-maskers, anti-vaxxers, anti-sex education parents to have a bigger role in deciding public health policy in RISD. If so, I would not want her to serve on the board of trustees.
Update: 2/22/2022 10:30: Doing even more research, I found Sherry Clemens addressed the school board on September 20, 2021 on the subject of pornography in schools. She read excerpts of books with profanity and sexually explicit content. But to call it "pornography" means that there is no socially redeeming value. That can only be answered by looking at the context on a case by case basis, and different teachers and parents will come down on different sides in each case. She wants permission slips for everything. I'd go along with that, at least on a book by book basis. This is controversial stuff. I don't know how to handle library books. I don't want to ban library books with socially redeeming value. In summary, she has some valid points. I wouldn't want her in charge of approving books as a trustee, but I certainly am open to finding ways to give her more insight into the books that her children might be exposed to in school, and an opportunity to object.
I'm done adding updates on Sherry Clemens. I'm open to hearing more from her, but I think I have enough information to be comfortable knowing how to vote.
- Walter Turner: I had never heard of Walter Turner until he filed to
run for school board. A cursory internet search was not helpful in turning up information,
other than that he owns a home improvement company in Richardson. Word of
mouth reports are that he's upstanding, humble, honest, and generous. He's
not a politician but loves his community and sees a need to serve. He
serves on a local PTA board. That's all well and good, but it's a thin
resume for school board. The fact that he waited until the last day to file
to run, and the fact that I
can't find any online presence for his campaign suggests to me that he
might not be ready even to run an election campaign. I hope he can prove
...After I wrote the above but before I published it, Walter Turner reached out to me for a face-to-face meeting. It's a good sign. I haven't met him yet, but my advice will be the same as to all candidates: meet as many people as you can, attend all the school board meetings, PTA meetings, candidate meet-and-greet events and forums. Meet the voters where they live; pound the pavement; recruit an army of volunteers to block walk. Hone your message. Remember, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. And good luck!
Update 2/25/2022: Walter Turner has withdrawn his candidacy.
- Regina Harris: Harris is unopposed. Three years ago, I recommended Harris in a field of four candidates. I said then that she "has the strongest experience, with service on multiple PTA boards, including president at Richardson High School, and district-level committees, including the Diversity/Equity/Inclusion Committee and Community Engagement Action Team. Harris is best positioned to have an immediate impact on the board." Little did I know then the troubles she would face in her first term, during which she went from rookie to board president. It's been a bumpy ride, but she has been a steady hand on the tiller, and a steadfast supporter of RISD initiatives. Not only do I endorse her for a second term, I welcome it. RISD needs her now more than ever.
- Kile Brown: I don't know Brown. A cursory internet search returned nothing useful. If he's been active in RISD, I didn't see it. In an interview with Lake Highlands Advocate, I learn that his wife "has been active in LH-area schools." That's a worrying sign when his wife's activity is mentioned, but not his own. I also learn that he serves as a deacon at Wilshire Baptist Church. I have respect for Wilshire Baptist, which voted in 2016 for all members to be treated equally, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Churches are free to believe what they want, but public schools are not. Coming from such a church is a mark in Brown's favor. He's quoted as saying, "There is a lot coming at public schools today: superintendent resignations, book banning, mask mandates, vaccination mandates, teachers leaving the profession corporate America scooping them up, critical race theory, EDI, SEL, vouchers and tomorrow may bring something else. We need to reset and refocus on what is most important: preparing our kids for the world in which they will graduate in a few months or several years." So he understands the issues. But I'm not comforted by his call for "reset and refocus." If by that he means quit trying to solve these issues, then he misunderstands the challenges facing public schools today. I consider these issues to be root causes for the problems that prevent what Brown claims to want, the preparation of our kids for the world.
- Jan Stell: I don't know Stell. A cursory internet search revealed a long history in selling homes. She also has experience teaching in Richardson ISD prior to her 30 year career as a realtor. But I turned up nothing to do with volunteering in the schools or on RISD committees. According to an interview with Lake Highlands Advocate, "Stell says she’ll work to ensure candid communication between district officials and stakeholders throughout RISD." Nothing wrong with that, but I'll need to hear a lot more candid communication from Stell herself about how she'll deal with the challenges facing RISD, and about where she wants to take RISD, before I'll feel comfortable awarding her with a seat on the board of trustees.
- Rachel McGowan: Former Superintendent Jeannie Stone has only complimentary words to say about McGowan. When McGowan announced her candidacy, Dr. Stone wrote, "Thank you for your willingness to serve RISD. I have admired your passion and service for many years, and you have consistently walked the walk in supporting a vision for ALL students. Godspeed!" According to an interview with Lake Highlands Advocate, "McGowan has served on various PTA boards and on RISD's Student Health Advisory Committee. She's active with the Stults Road Advisory Council." I first saw Rachel McGowan when she spoke at a public hearing in November, 2021. It was during the most contentious time for RISD in most people's memory. Yet she forthrightly defended the RISD board "for implementing policies for listening and responding to a community where 38% are Hispanic, 22% are African American, 57% of our families are economically disadvantaged, 28% are English language learners, and 12% are in special education." Even as just a parent speaking at a public hearing, she exhibited the knowledge and fortitude that are needed in leadership in these contentious times.
These are only my first impressions. There is still a lot of time for the candidates to tell their stories and shape a different narrative than the way I saw things at first glance.
Early voting begins April 25. Election Day is May 7. Vote. Kids deserve it.