Peter Nordbye: ‘I have ability at consensus building’

You’re a retired educator since 2003. Tell us something about what you’ve been doing.

I was a middle school teacher, principal, and before that I was in special education, and my heart and soul has always been in SPED.

As a principal those kids were always the ones I had my eye on, when you look at dropout rates. They were probably my career focus until I retired in 2003; still consider myself a special educator.

This is my first attempt at public office: I never had any real interest, and I think my studying is what did it, looking at the shift of wealth, and that kind of thing.

I taught young people all my career and we told them if they get their high school degree and then you go to college because that’s what you need to do. And it’s still true — you have a much better chance if you go to college — but we’re seeing that shift, and we’re seeing people with college degrees working at minimum wage jobs, thousands of them, and struggling to pay their student loans.

I’m concerned. I see money dominating the elections. It’s bigger than just the elections. It’s when our representatives go to Salem or Washington, D.C., and if they’re getting hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars, depending on the office they’re in, there’s going to be expectations to (alter your vote).

I have a lot of ability at consensus building; that whole idea of you come into a room with people with differences, and you try to find that common ground, and I’m really good at that. I’ve done that dozens of times.

The other thing you have to do as a teacher and principal is problem solve. I know how to bring disparate parties together. There is no recipe for it, but there are some skills. You have to know who you are and what your values are. And you have to know your principles. You have to know the difference between your principles and your values. On your principles you can shift a little. On your values, you shouldn’t shift.

I’m a good listener; that’s the other skill I bring to it, and I can articulate the other side’s point of view. I can understand it. If you and I disagree on something, before you and I get too far in our discussion I will understand what your position is, and I will check with you to make sure I understand it and you’re going to understand what my position is and then we start hammering.

Sometimes you get to a resolution and your position might be so radical from mine. I might not be able to compromise with you, and you can’t compromise your values so you just work, and then you build. The other thing is I’m a good researcher, so the other thing is you go in and try to build your case pulling in evidence.

Elaborate on your position on education funding levels and service delivery.

I strongly believe the service delivery now, the top-down testing model, is wrong; the tests are forcing teachers to develop curriculum based on multiple-choice tests. Research all over the place, almost everything we’ve learned about multiple learning styles, it’s negating this model. What we’ve learned about testing models is it assumes that if you have a 15-year-old 10th grader it’s assuming they are all at the same developmental level. We’re setting up a delivery model that hasn’t worked anywhere.

We need to fund more locally. We’ve got people making decisions about education who have no understanding. We have filled committees with people who have no understanding. I’d like to be on those committees, to be an alternative voice because all you’re hearing is top-down testing. I don’t know everything, but I know some things, and some of this is just absolutely ludicrous and yet we continue doing it. So I’ll be a voice.

How will you be effective in Salem?

Will I be able to turn the tide? I’m not going to upset the apple cart, at the same time there are some things that need doing, and I think people will listen to me. I’m not expecting them to all of a sudden embrace me and treat me like a leader, but I will be a leader eventually. It’s always been that way for me.

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