It’s experience versus “new blood” in the race for Position 2 on the Medford School Board.
Incumbent School Board member and former chairman Jeff Thomas will run against newcomers Suzanne Messer and Norma McMahan in the May 16 special election.
Of the three board members whose terms are up June 30, only Thomas is running for re-election.
“When I got on the board, we were failing one in three kids and had a 65 graduation rate,” Thomas said. “Our district is now graduating 77 percent of kids, but I want to be part of taking that from good to great. There is no reason we shouldn’t be in the low 90s by 2020.”
Thomas, 49, and his wife, Traci, have two daughters, who both graduated from North Medford High School and are now attending Western Oregon University and Oregon State University. He works at Connecting Point, where he has worked for the last 26 years, been manager for 20 years and owner since last year. He also coaches North Medford's girls varsity soccer team and is president of the Rogue Valley Timbers Soccer Club.
Thomas has served on the Medford School Board since 2009 and was a member of the team that hired Superintendent Brian Shumate in 2014. During his time on the board, he said, he has worked to improve relationships with the Latino community, increase the graduation rate and close the achievement gap for all students, especially those of color and those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
In the coming term, Thomas said, he’ll push for more online opportunities for students to earn dual or articulated credit, pursue pathways that aren’t available in the classroom and individualize their education.
He said he also would like to see the district develop a comprehensive technology plan that demonstrates how technology will be integrated into the curricula, how it will help the district close the achievement gap and how it will “level the playing field for all students.”
“Just continuing to buy Chromebooks isn’t the answer,” he said. “The question we need to ask is, ‘Why do we think it’s important for students?’”
Thomas said the main reason he is running for a third term is because he wants to continue to support Shumate's vision for the school district.
“I feel I need to give it one more term … and support (Shumate) in a way so that he can see the job through,” he said.
Messer, 48, said she is answering the Oregon School Boards Association’s call for more community members to serve on local school boards.
According to information included in OSBA’s "Get on Board" campaign, “the May 2015 election saw the lowest number of candidates for Oregon school board seats in a decade, and nearly three-quarters of all candidates ran unopposed. “
Although she acknowledges that she is busy working full-time as a senior inventory project manager for Erickson Inc., and parenting her four children, she feels she has a lot to offer the board.
“I think I bring a different voice (to the board) as a parent and as an employer looking for future employees,” she said.
“People say, ‘Find a busy mom, and she’ll get it done,’ ” she joked.
Messer studied forestry, teaching and business at Oregon State University for about two years and has been working at Erickson for the last 26 years in a variety of roles.
Her husband is a Jackson County sheriff’s deputy, and her children attend Lone Pine Elementary School, Hedrick Middle School, North Medford and Oregon State University.
Messer, a SkillsUSA volunteer, said she wants to see kids pursue their interests in high school through classes such as welding, wood shop, cooking, 3D printing, architectural drafting and robotics, so they know what their post-secondary options are — whether that’s college or an industry certification.
“Taking these types of classes, gave my (eldest) daughter focus and self-worth,” she said. “She is now studying environmental engineering systems at OSU.”
Messer, who was endorsed by the Medford Education Association, said she also wants to have a hand in shaping local policy and see more teamwork and communication between teachers, administrators and the School Board.
“I’m still willing to ask the hard questions, but I want to see us working as a team,” she said. “'You don’t have to like each other, but you do have to work together’ — that’s what I tell my kids.”
Born and raised in Medford, Norma McMahan said she is running because she is curious what kids are learning and wants to see whether she can “help the process.”
“I’ve never done anything like this before, and I decided at 61 years old, it’s time to get involved,” she said.
McMahan taught for five years at Blossom Hills Development Center and now works as a personal support worker for Jackson County Mental Health, volunteers as a SMART reader at Roosevelt Elementary School and cares for her elderly mother.
On her list of priorities are individualized learning and parental involvement.
“Home life and school life for some parents are totally separate, but really it should be a combined effort by both the teachers and parents,” she said.