Early voting for the 2022 Richardson ISD school board election starts Monday, April 25. So, too, for the Dallas College school board election, a new field for The Wheel to cover. RISD is electing trustees in three single-member districts (if you don't live in one of those districts, no RISD race will be on your ballot). Dallas College is electing trustees in two single-member districts, one of which includes [most of] RISD. Use Vote411.org to see your personalized ballot and to read how the candidates answered a questionnaire by the League of Women Voters.
There are some great candidates running. There are also some who are a risk to equity/diversity/inclusion, to social-emotional learning, to anti-racism policies, to prudent public health measures, and ultimately to effective education, which can't happen without supporting a safe and healthy environment for learning the three Rs. Use The Wheel's Voters Guide to learn one person's opinion about which candidates are which.
A lot has happened since I published my "First Impressions of RISD School Board Candidates". I listened to the District 2 candidates' thoughts on former Superintendent Jeannie Stone's resignation, and on the upcoming search for a new superintendent. I looked at campaign fundraising in District 2 and 5, and at the political associations of certain candidates. I read the candidates' answers to The Dallas Morning News questionnaire. I read and watched the League of Women Voters questionnaire and forums. After all that, I'm ready to make recommendations. You should really do the same research. Or you can just take my word for it. ;-) Read on.
For RISD trustee in District 2, I recommend Vanessa Pacheco.
For RISD trustee in District 5, I recommend Rachel McGowan.
For Dallas College District 1, I recommend Catalina E Garcia.
Read on for the reasons I reached these recommendations.
RISD District 2
The Wheel RECOMMENDS Vanessa Pacheco.
My first impression of Pacheco came from her first run for RISD trustee three years ago. She has an inspiring personal story and the education, background, vision, and temperament to prepare her to serve on the Board of Trustees. She will advocate for diversity/equity/inclusion in all schools. A differentiating focus of her candidacy is her advocacy for pre-K for all children. She will also advocate for better community engagement, including hiring more dual language teachers. She was the only candidate to provide Spanish language versions of her answers to the LWV questionnaire. She will advocate for programs like peer mediation to reduce the likelihood of bullying and violence. In one candidate forum, she was the only candidate who explicitly said that former Superintendent Jeannie Stone's resignation was "not a good thing for RISD". In contrast, Sherry Clemens said it was a good thing and Eron Linn answered the question in a way that I considered to be less than candid. On that question alone, I thought Pacheco distinguished herself. But there was much more in her favor.
All in all, Pacheco has demonstrated that she is qualified and has good ideas that differentiate her from her opponents. She will be a welcome addition to the school board.
Linn is the incumbent, so my first impression of him was made when he joined the board in 2015. Three years ago, when he last ran 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 board vote against the Tax Ratification Election that funded 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 a lot of sorely needed money paying legal fees in an ultimately futile resistance effort.
Since then, the RISD's troubles have grown worse. The school board failed to unify in support of the superintendent's prudent positions on protecting public health in the face of COVID-19, and her discerning policies on diversity/equity/inclusion and social-emotional learning. Instead the board was divided and dysfunctional, leading to the resignations of both the board president and the school superintendent. Eron Linn, as the senior member of the board, was guilty of a failure of leadership in preventing the divisions or in healing them. RISD can do better. A qualified alternative is needed.
Sherry Clemens: NOT RECOMMENDED.
Conservative media outlet "The Blaze" quotes Clemens as saying, "My biggest fear is that if all the Christians leave public school, then the public school becomes 100% indoctrination." Clemens is presumptuous in speaking for all Christians. She's wrong to assert that a secular public school education is incompatible with religious belief. Thousands of Christians, Muslims, Jews, and others believe otherwise. Clemens can raise her own children in whatever faith tradition she believes is best, but she shouldn't be allowed to impose her religious beliefs on the 38,000 children of other parents.
She is endorsed by and has made multiple contributions to the Richardson ISD Families First PAC, which, when endorsing Clemens and Jan Stell, also promoted a movie that calls teachers "mind polluters." The movie accuses public schools of indoctrinating children into "a worldview of rampant sexuality, homosexuality, and transgenderism normalized through the use of pornographic and pedophilic materials." It shouldn't have to be said, but this is false. It damages the reputation of every teacher in RISD.
She objects to books with "themes revolving around race, gender and sexual identity." She has raised an alarm over library books that include "left-wing ideology — there's homosexuality, there's a lot about gender identity, which I think is a huge hot topic right now and scary for our girls to be exposed to."
She opposed efforts by RISD to mitigate COVID-19. She raised an alarm over following practices recommended by medical experts, describing them as a "so-called COVID task force, which was really made up of five local doctors who only presented one side of the COVID narrative."
She is opposed to lessons that help students of all ages better comprehend their emotions and demonstrate empathy for others. All students, both high achievers and struggling students, both bullies and those they bully, all benefit from such programs, which create a classroom environment that helps students learn the three Rs at the heart of all schools' curricula.
For all of these reasons, Sherry Clemens is not recommended.
RISD District 4
The Wheel RECOMMENDS Regina Harris.
Harris is the incumbent and is running unopposed. I endorse her for a second term. RISD needs her now more than ever.
RISD District 5
The Wheel RECOMMENDS Rachel McGowan.
When McGowan announced her candidacy, former Superintendent Jeannie 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!" Since then, McGowan has garnered endorsements from five former RISD trustees. They know the rigors of the job and believe McGowan is not only up to the task, but is the best candidate for the task.
McGowan has broad experience volunteering in RISD: She told The Dallas Morning News: "I am currently serving on the RISD PTA council board as the DEI chair, RISD Student Health Advisory Committee (SHAC), the Stults Road Advisory Council, and am enrolled in Dallas Leadership ISD's Ready to Lead program that trains future board trustees on effective board governance."
I first saw Rachel McGowan when she spoke at the public comment section of an RISD board meeting 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 fortitude in the face of a hostile audience that is needed in leadership in these contentious times. Observing her campaign, my impression of her has only grown more favorable.
Brown has a background in international business and community service, but lacks experience in education in general and RISD in particular.
In an interview with Lake Highlands Advocate, he said, "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." I consider these issues to be root causes for problems that prevent what Brown wants, which is the preparation of our kids for the world. I would be more confident if he expressed his ideas for how to tackle these problems, not how to "reset and refocus on what is most important."
In short, Brown is a businessman with good intentions. He supports equity, diversity, and inclusion. I believe he would serve the RISD community well and would grow into the job, but there's another candidate with a stronger record of involvement in RISD. I hope Brown deepens his involvement in RISD over the next year and considers running for another seat at that time.
Jan Stell: NOT RECOMMENDED.
The Richardson ISD Families First PAC says, "We have identified two amazing candidates that align with our mission and values. We are thrilled to announce our official endorsement of Sherry Clemens and Jan Stell." As a reminder, that PAC promotes a propaganda movie that accuses public schools of indoctrinating children into "a worldview of rampant sexuality, homosexuality, and transgenderism normalized through the use of pornographic and pedophilic materials." That impugns the integrity of every teacher in RISD. That Stell shares that PAC's ideology makes her unacceptable as a school trustee.
Stell's resume has little record of involvement in RISD, and what it has appears to be dated. In The Dallas Morning News questionnaire, she says she's a former teacher. That's great. It's more than the other two candidates can claim. But she doesn't say when or for how long. Given that she's been a realtor since 1985, could it be that her personal hands-on experience in a classroom and inside RISD is dated? The only other school experience she lists is the nonspecific "Various PTA positions." Contrast that with Rachel McGowan's lengthy and current involvement in RISD schools.
Stell says she is running for school board because "I believe we need to focus on getting education back to the basics." "Back to basics" has traditionally been used as a loaded term. To many political conservatives today, "back to basics" means get "social issues" out of the curriculum. That's Stell's attitude as well. No attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion. No attention to social-emotional learning. In the LWV Voters Guide, when asked about social-emotional learning, Stell uses one sentence to say she "understands" what the RISD is doing, but then uses the rest of her answer to criticize RISD standardized test scores. I think I know what Stell is signaling with that answer.
According to the Lake Highlands Advocate, at one point in a forum, "during the ‘agree’ or ‘disagree’ turning of paddles, Stell twirled hers around several times during questions around social-emotional learning, mask mandates, and a couple other topics." Stell has had two years during the pandemic to know where she stands on COVID-19, SEL, and DEI. She shouldn't "twirl". She should just tell us. That she doesn't suggests she knows her positions are unpopular with the general electorate.
In the same forum, Stell called for change with vague cliches. "I think we need to look outside the box and make some hard decisions." "We need a fresh eye on that. And we need to look outside the box." Those are the answers of someone trying to fill time because she has no ideas to offer. Or maybe no ideas that voters in general will find popular. In either case, voters should look elsewhere for the next trustee to represent District 5.
This is the first Voters Guide in which The Wheel covers the school board of Dallas College (formerly Dallas County Community College). District 1 includes all of RISD. [Correction: Most of RISD is in Dallas College District 1, but a small part of RISD in Garland is in Dallas College District 3, which isn't included in this Voters Guide.]
Dallas College District 1
The Wheel RECOMMENDS Catalina E Garcia.
Garcia is the only candidate with a post-graduate degree. I admit that degrees don't guarantee wisdom or even superior competency, but all things considered, if there's a job where a post-graduate degree might be considered an entry level requirement, to me the board of trustees of a college would be one such job.
Garcia has a very long resume of service on boards, commissions, and foundations. Not just service, but a founding role in several. Her commitment to our community college system is clear. She identifies strengths and weaknesses of Dallas College. She wants it to provide an accessible, and less expensive, opportunity for local students to obtain higher education. That's exactly what the board's focus should be.
Gretchen M. Williams.
Williams succeeded her late husband as trustee, serving in this position only since October 5, 2021, when she was appointed to serve until this May election. She doesn't appear to have screwed it up, which is not nothing, but she has no record of accomplishments she can point to as a reason she deserves to be elected in her own name. Unfortunately, as the incumbent, her campaign is defensive, highlighting pluses of the Dallas College system and ignoring weaknesses.
Her background is as a realtor, co-chairman of a grocery store chain (her middle initial, "M.", stands for Minyard), and former minority owner of the Dallas Mavericks. All of those connections could be a benefit to Dallas College, especially as trustee is more of a political job than an educator. She also says the right things about "building a community college system that truly serves all communities" and "shrink[ing] the income disparity in underserved communities by mak[ing] college accessible and affordable to all." Dallas County could do worse than return Williams to the position as trustee.
Lynn S. Davenport.
Speaking of worse...Lynn Davenport. No. Just no. Unless you want a board member who is a conspiracy theorist who thinks that, on the one hand, our public schools don't know how to teach but, on the other hand, are cunningly skilled at digitally enslaving our kids on the blockchain while advancing schemes like "transhumanism". Elect her and be prepared to listen to nuggets of wisdom like this: "Parents excited about kids in robotics are excited about robots replacing their kids. #futureofwork".
No. Just no.
Early voting begins Monday, April 25. Election Day is Saturday, May 7. Vote.
On another website, someone offered this personal rule: "If you are going to post an endorsement of a candidate you should include the following information: Who are you and why does your endorsement have value to this campaign? WHY are you endorsing this candidate?"
Well, I don't claim to be anybody you should care about. I don't claim my endorsement has value. I do say WHY I am endorsing the candidates I do. If your opinion differs, that's fine. If I got any facts wrong, that's not fine. Let me know in the comments and I'll offer corrections.