Two challengers — Loran Ayles and Stephen Shwiff — face incumbent Chrissy Reitz, the current board chair, in the race for Position 1 on Hood River County School District Board of Directors.

Three other board director positions will be on the May 21 Special Districts ballot, but those incumbents are running unopposed: Corinda Hankins-Elliot, Tom Scully and Brandi Sheppard.

Board members not up for re-election this year are Julie Garcia-Ramirez, Rich Truax and David Russo.

Russo served on the board from 2012-15, but was appointed last month to fill an open position.

Hood River News spoke with Reitz, Ayles and Shwiff this week.

Below are their responses to the following questions:

1. Why are you running?

2. What are the chief issues or challenges facing the district?

3. What is the primary initiative or proposal you would like to see the district pursue?

4. The district will start in 2019-20 with a new superintendent and potentially new board members: What will this mean to the overall district leadership process and how you will contribute?

5. Briefly describe your views on these subjects: Equity, academics and achievement, district funding, and PERS (Public Employee Retirement System).

6. What have you witnessed in a local school or schools that pleased you or concerned you? Please cite the circumstances of how you formed this impression.

Chrissy/Chris Reitz

A1 Chrissy Reitz MUG.jpg

Chrissy/Chris Reitz

Chrissy (also known as Chris) Reitz has lived in Hood River for more than 17 years. She is currently finishing her first four-year term on the Hood River County School Board and has served as the board’s chair for the last year and a half. The mother of two is a former nurse who describes herself now as a “professional volunteer.”

Why are you running?

“The main reason that I am running again is because I really love it. I just enjoy being a small part of making sure that the kids in Hood River County have the best education they can. I am just a true believer in education and I think it is one of the best ways and only ways to make yourself be able to be what you want to be; so, I feel like it’s just been really fun to be a part of and I couldn’t be prouder of what we do in this district. I want to make sure that we keep doing that ...”

What are the chief issues or challenges facing the district?

“The biggest challenges that I think we’re facing — one of the biggest ones is we’re going to have a new superintendent. And that is always going to be a change for people. I’m really excited about the candidate that we have but ... I think that everybody is maybe a little nervous because it takes some time to get to know your leader, for your leader to get to know your school district ... And she’s coming into our community as a new member, and our community is pretty darn special and we care a lot about our schools, so you need to understand that nuance as you come in and become part of our district. That’s going to be the biggest one.

“We also are opening a new school ... And so that’s another big challenge. You know, we’re going through a boundary change process right now, which is incredibly difficult for families and for the community and so, again, that history of somebody on the board who has been through a boundary process before, somebody who is a parent in the district, I understand how scary it is for parents to think about sending their kids to a school that they haven’t traditionally gone to, so those are big changes that we’re seeing.

“The last thing I’ll say is that Oregon right now is at the center of this crossroads of funding for public education, and I’ve been very involved: I’m the legislative policy committee rep for our area, and I’ve been very involved in what’s going on and it really is, this is a key moment for funding for schools ...”

What is the primary initiative or proposal you would like to see the district pursue?

“It is hard to pick out one initiative because in schools everything is connected. You can’t talk about high school graduation rates without acknowledging that those numbers are affected by kindergarten readiness, which in turn is affected by preschool accessibility. But the one thing I would like to see us continue to monitor and invest in is making sure that when our kids graduate, they have the skills to be successful. This will include: Making sure that all of our students have access to dual-credit college level courses ...; that our CTE (Career Technical Education) pathways are aligned with the jobs that are needed and accessible in our communities and around the state; and that we continue or add programs that give our students the best chance to leave HRVHS with skills that allow them to go directly into the workplace and be successful. 

The district will start in 2019-20 with a new superintendent and potentially new board members: What will this mean to the overall district leadership process and how you will contribute?

“If I get re-elected, my role will really be as a historian of what has happened, and really just I think a good touchstone of why we have the programs we have. We’re starting a preschool at May Street Elementary right now, it’s the only school in our district that doesn’t have a preschool right now, and to understand why we’re doing that, you have to understand the history of our kids coming into kindergarten ... that’s just one example of ‘I know why we’re doing that. I know how important that is and why we’re doing that’ ... I’ve been really involved in a lot of things and I really think that welcoming a new superintendent, I’ll be a good resource and touchstone to our community.”

Equity

“We have just made equity a huge focus of our district, again, especially in the last five to six years, we’re really making strides. We have put programs in place and we just have tremendous teachers and staff that really believe in this, and it’s so important. The thing about equity is that every bit of research shows that if you lift up kids, if you lift up one kid, all kids get lifted up; so, we’re talking about our entire population that benefits from equitable programs. We have a lot of things in place, we have been closing achievement gaps, we have been making sure that our kids, again, all the way from Cascade Locks to Parkdale, are getting good programs that really allow them to get where they want to go, but there’s work to be done. We need to continue ... We do a really good job of preparing our kids for college if that’s something that they want to do ... but we also are really, I think, in the last couple of years, understanding that that’s not really the path for all of our kids. And so we’re increasing our CTE programs at the high school, really making sure that we are actually getting kids on a trajectory before they are done with high school so they can be successful out in the real world — and that’s an equity program, because it’s saying that just because you’re not choosing this path or able to go to this path, we have something else as well that can really benefit you, so that’s all about equity. There are lots of different facets of it, but it’s a continuous process.”

Academics and achievement

“If you look at our test scores, we, by far, are achieving greater than most schools in Oregon — we have one of the highest graduation rates in Oregon, we have one of the highest ninth grade on track rates in the state of Oregon … we are really strong in  our academics, and I think, that has to do with our kids just having access to good programs, having fantastic teachers and staff that really want kids to succeed, that equity piece that we have in there.

“...We have some of our metrics that aren’t as good as we’d like them to be, but we continue to work towards those ... We are strong in our academics, in all parts of our district — which is really a great thing, is that we have strong schools across the board, and all of our metrics show that. I’m just incredibly proud of what kids do in our district.”

District funding

“...This year, in this new budget, we are adding programs, we are adding teachers, we’re adding mental health support at our schools, we are adding the kindergarten; and if you talk to anybody else in the state, they’re planning on cuts this year. Even with the uncertainty of what the budget is actually going to be, we have been so financially accountable that we are going to be able to weather that storm, whatever it is. Or, we’re going to really benefit from having programs in place that can accept that new money because we’ve really set ourselves up to report. So, I really give a ton of credit to our administration, our present superintendent, and also our community: Because we have both a bond and a levy that passed by 70 percent or more, which is just kind of unheard of, and because of that, we can offer — again, we can hire and retain great teachers; we can offer programing because we know that we have that support, we have fixed our schools ... We are continuing to add programs and helping kids, which is what we’re supposed to do in a time where most people are cutting. And that’s … you can’t say enough about, unfortunately, schools are businesses as well. And the board made that a priority: We made financial stability a priority because we knew the ripple effect that it would have and to serve kids better. 


PERS


“It’s a real issue and it is a really tough thing to talk about because, on the one hand, it is a detriment to our funding; and, again, Hood River County has been able to weather it because of the financial stewardship, but it still is a big part of our budget ... It’s a really tough question of that balance, of making sure that we’re offering our employees a benefit that will really address the work that they’ve done and have done for many years, but it has to be more sustainable.”

What have you witnessed in a local school or schools that pleased you or concerned you? Please cite the circumstances of how you formed this impression?

“...Every time I’m at a baseball game and you watch all those parents and they’re so proud of their kids. I do speech and debate — I judge speech and debate at the high school, when they ask me to — and to see a kid who’s incredibly quiet and shy and you can see how hard it is for them to be up there and you realize this is an opportunity for them to grow that we’re offering these kids — that’s everything, that opens a world to those kids, again, that if they didn’t have the opportunity to be involved in something like that that they would never have…”

Loran Ayles

A1 loran ayles.JPG

Loran Ayles

Loran Ayles has lived in Hood River for 18 years. The Estacada native has worked for the past seven years as a heavy equipment operator. He has served as a volunteer firefighter, Red Cross volunteer, and is currently a Local Precinct Committee chair.

Why are you running?

“Fiscal accountability is one thing. I am concerned about the future and the future of kids. I want to be involved in their progress and I want to get money going to the school and into the classroom, to get it into the teachers’ hands so they can help students directly.

“I want to give all citizens in the Position 1 boundary area a true voice on the board, that includes Cascade Locks. I plan to be attentive, to be available and listen as well as be transparent. I know a lot of folks in Cascade Locks and I have talked to them and heard their concerns. I want to bring those to the board’s attention.”

What are the chief issues or challenges facing the district?

“The chief issues are overcrowded classrooms in the lower valley and empty classrooms in Cascade Locks. I want to keep partisan politics out of education system, it’s no place for partisan politics or politics in general. The schools should be providing an education to our children to make their own choices and their own opinion. The board needs to always strive to move the ball forward and be transparent, and involve the community.”

What is the primary imitative or proposal you would like to see the District pursue?

“That’s a two-pronger: I’d like to look into getting some advanced, new technology classes brought into the district where we can provide kids’ education in cutting edge technology and new technology for the future, in turn bring those industries into our county. In doing that, the businesses who come in have a ready work force and that in turn raises the tax base, which would help everyone.”

The district will start in 2019-20 with a new superintendent and potentially new board members: What will this mean to the overall district leadership process and how you will contribute?

“The board would have a reorganization and learning curve to get everyone up to speed and get everyone moving forward. I pride myself with being able to listen and think outside box, and push to unite those involved. If there are differences, we can find something in common and work for common goals for the good of the kids.”

Equity

“We definitely need to be inclusive of all students regardless of background and where they come from.”

Academics and achievement

“We need to always move forward and strive to do better and never be satisfied with the status quo.”

District funding

“I want to get fiscal accountability and get the funding to the students. I need to get in there and understand current funding. I don’t know where the funding is at and where it’s going.”

PERS

“This is a dilemma facing every government body, and the solution is going to rest on the state’s shoulders. I don’t know much we can do locally to alleviate the problem. I know there are efforts in the works to come up with a solution, but most of it will be at the state level.”

What have you witnessed in a local school or schools that pleased you concerned you? Please cite the circumstances of how you formed this impression?

“What concerns me is continual cuts to extracurricular or elective classes or activities, a lot of sports through community education, cutting of sports and activity classes, things like reduced band, physical education, those sorts of things. I’d like to get the money to the classroom. What concerns me is a lack of preparing kids for the future they’re going to face.”

Stephen Shwiff

A1 Stephen Shwiff MUG.jpg

Stephen Shwiff

Stephen Shwiff moved from San Antonio to Hood River about 10 years ago. The former attorney and stay-at-home dad has served on school boards in both Texas and Mosier and has taught at the University of Texas. He is currently the Dean of General Education for Columbia Gorge Community College.

Why are you running?

“I’m running because I feel like I know education pretty well and that I feel I have always been a treasurer and a business-minded person when I’ve approached these jobs in the past, so I feel like that’s something I can bring to the school district.”

What are the chief challenges that you would say are facing the school district?

“I’ve heard a lot about the challenges, but I haven’t pre-judged any of them, so I wouldn’t want to speak on specifics, but I feel like the budget is always an issue, and we have the same issues in the community college. One thing I found really helpful for the community college is that we have a middle school teacher — Sarah — on our board, and that connection has been really powerful because she was instrumental in promoting the teachers pathway that we’re creating for students to go from our high school with dual credits, with Columbia Gorge, and go onto OSU, and do everything in the Gorge — so I feel like my connection with Columbia Gorge and with the school district, if I got this position, would really be helpful to project what students need at every level to succeed in college and in careers and things like that. Also, I think one of the passions that I’ve had is serving the underserved communities, and that’s part of my job at CGCC, but I’ve also been part of the union — treasurer again there, and president — and we worked with Columbia Gorge to become a Hispanic-serving institution. I feel like that’s going to be of vital importance, that we make people feel comfortable in the school district, that they have someplace to come in and talk, and same with the community college. That’s one of the reasons that I wanted to participate is that so many of the issues are the same. And no matter what, I’m going to be involved with these issues at the high school and lower levels in my job here.”

What is the primary initiative or proposal you would like to see the district pursue?

“I am looking forward to the ideas circulating in our community that have not yet received notice. Personally, I would like to see how we could support creative classroom projects or special educational opportunities as initiative to our teachers.  Also, I would like to address the gaps that may discourage low-income kids from participating in school activities including the elective classes like robotics and theater.”

The district will start in 2019-20 with a new superintendent and potentially new board members: What will this mean to the overall district leadership process and how you will contribute?

“It’s hard to know, but I think it’s vital that leadership changes over, and if anybody becomes too entrenched — especially in a position that I think is civic obligation rather than political office … but I think that leadership has been one of my strong suits and … I think every position I’ve had in the school board, I’ve been asked to join, I haven’t sought it out; and I think that it’s important to renew the leadership group, the whole way of doing things. It’s sometimes good, it’s sometimes bad, but if you don’t ever bring in new people, you’ll never know. I feel I’ve always been somewhat of an innovator all my careers, and I would bring that to the board. One of my business partners, a long time ago, said that one of my best qualities was asking the right kind of questions, and they really made him think about what he was doing and what he had been doing for a long time and how he’s approaching the topics; and that’s what I feel like I would bring: A fresh pair of eyes, knowledge from other entities that can see what we can do to make things better.”

Equity

“Very important, I feel like that’s one of our focuses here at Columbia Gorge, and that everybody is given the same opportunities, and that if people need help — no matter what it is, because everybody needs some help, in different areas — that that’s provided, and that’s a real focus of mine, to make that happen.”

Academics and achievement

“Again, that’s one of my focuses — and I’ve been an instructor since 2001, and so it feels to me that that’s the most basic goal that we have at the school district, to help students achieve, reach their goals, and to do the best they can … and also to learn that they can succeed. That’s one thing that we’re working on with our dual credit program. I’m on the committee — three of us are in charge of that — is getting the students who have never thought about going to college some college-like experiences in high school so that they know that they can achieve, and we’ve done that a couple of different ways with the CLEP (College Level Examination Program) test, which is the Spanish-learning, Spanish-level college credit, and it helps with students that have always had the dual language issue, and this rewards them for knowing Spanish, which, in a lot of cases, has always sort of been a detriment — they speak Spanish, they speak English, and now they can see that that’s worth something in college. One of our focuses in dual credit is that middle group: The higher group is going to take the advanced classes, the AP classes; and what we’re looking for is the middle achievers, those who think, ‘Well, is college for me, is college not for me, how can I find out,’ and approach that in high school. I also feel like — and this is kind of standard now — but we went to the Hood River Foundation and they were talking about sixth and seventh grade STEM fairs, and STEM camps and robotics in middle school and it’s best to start young — and I agree. I think it’s best, if you can expose students at a young age, first through five or so, is great. Especially, you go back to the equity issue, a lot of women and girls are not encouraged to go into the STEM fields, and I think that’s ridiculous. My wife was a radiologist before she retired here and is obviously a science/math kind of person. Even though my dad was traditional, I had three sisters and all of them were going to have careers … and so I think it’s very important that we help the children achieve their academic goals.”

District funding

“Again, it’s something I don’t know much about, but I feel my background as treasurer and business would really help me once I got involved in it, but I have no personal knowledge of it. I think it’s probably similar to our funding, with the state legislature determining it and giving us what they determine is what they can give or what we need, and us doing the best we can. We’re doing the same thing at Columbia Gorge — I operate a $2-3 million in just my department of General Education, and so we have to spread those dollars as wisely and as usefully as we can.”

PERS

“That affects us directly, too. My understanding is there’s not much we can do about it, because it’s at the state level, and the local school districts and the college school board have very little power. I feel like it is a problem, but there’s a lot of retirement funding all throughout the country that’s a problem; and so I would be concerned about it and see what we can do, but I don’t think there’s much on the local level that we can do about it.”

What have you witnessed in a local school or schools that pleased you or concerned you?

“I think, probably, the most rewarding thing was the starting of the middle school in Mosier, because it was basically a dream of families that had started the community school and their students were getting to middle school age, and they liked that smaller, blended classroom idea; and to make that a reality, hired the teachers and negotiated with the superintendent at the time, and negotiating with D21, which was considered challenging at the time but they were very open to the idea at the time so that worked out well. But just building something that’s going to last a long time and is helping students live a better life. I like to, like I said, be innovative, and that’s really rewarding to me — that idea that we’re kicking around, ‘What if we did this,’ and after a few years, you see ‘Oh, that worked! And it really helped all these students!’ And I think a lot of the issues that we’ve talked about with equity and inclusiveness and expanding the educational experience could be part of that innovation.”

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.