3 candidates vie for Richland School Board

By Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldJuly 21, 2013 

Two challengers are taking on Richland School Board Vice President Heather Cleary in the Aug. 6 primary.

Cleary, 58, who has been on the board since 2005, is on the ballot along with Jimmie D. Chastain II, 42, and Ron Higgins, 65.

Cleary said the board has helped the school district make a number of advances in recent years. They include implementing the Three Rivers HomeLink alternative learning program; the All Children Exceeding Standards, or ACES program, which helps students learn in early grades; and the Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID program.

AVID helps students prepare for college, many of whom are the first in their family to go. Cleary said it is now available at the high school level in Richland and will soon go to middle schools.

"There's always something new and innovative coming down the pike," she said.

Chastain, who works in finance at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, said he got involved with education after issues came up recently at the schools his five children attend -- Jefferson Elementary and Chief Joseph Middle School.

The district had initially discussed closing Jefferson as an elementary school and using it for HomeLink, but decided instead to keep it open and replace its oldest building as part of the district's $98 million bond package.

"I'm concerned about the kind of education you can get at Chief Joseph," he said. "Basically, that, along with the experiences I had at Jefferson, made me think I can do something to help our school district be the best we can."

Higgins said he comes from a family of teachers, and decided to become a substitute teacher himself after retiring from his job on the Hanford site. He cited his experience in the classroom in several area districts, as well as driving a bus in Pasco.

"I thought there's some important decisions that are going to be made, so maybe I should be in the area of education where the decisions are made, rather than where they are implemented," Higgins said.

Higgins, who ran unsuccessfully for state school superintendent last year, said he plans to take on the Common Core State Standards, which seek to bring uniformity to curriculum in different states. While he admits there is little that can be done about Common Core at the local level, he wants to have someone on the board who will take a stand.

"I think we're grown-ups here in Richland, we're fairly capable of knowing what our standards should be," he said. "I will at least push back. I will educate people about what's in it. They might say, 'If we don't implement it, some judge is going to have Caesar's minions come down against us.' They'll say, 'How dare you?' and I'll say, 'How dare they?' "

Chastain would like to see the district move away from teaching to standardized tests and get back to putting more focus on classes like social studies and art, he said.

Young cashiers can't even make correct change in stores, he said.

"They can pass all the tests, but they don't know how to use it," he said. "The fact is you can barely read people's handwriting anymore."

Cleary said the district is putting a focus on adapting to technology. Students at Jefferson are now part of a pilot program where third-, fourth- and fifth-graders use Apple iPad tablet computers, while others use digital textbooks that update regularly.

She said she also knows how to keep on top of the implementation of the bond package. It includes a new middle school, new elementary school and rebuilding three other elementary schools -- Marcus Whitman, Sacajawea and Lewis and Clark.

"We have a lot on our plate," Cleary said. "Costs are constantly escalating. We have to stay on top of it and keep it under budget."

Voters should receive primary ballots this week. The two candidates with the most votes in the primary will advance to the Nov. 5 general election.

The winner will serve a four-year term. School board members in Richland are paid $50 a meeting, and attend two regular meetings a month.

For more election stories, go to tricityherald.com/election.

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