State board of education, Richland school Board not on friendly terms

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 20, 2014 

The Richland School Board made it clear to the newest members of the state Board of Education that their relationship is broken.

Richland board member Rick Jansons pointedly told state board members Jeff Estes and Dan Plung at a meeting this week that he's even pushed for the state board's dissolution.

"Our experience with the state board is they don't talk to us," Jansons said.

But Estes and Plung, both from the Tri-Cities, said they intend to talk and listen to Mid-Columbia school boards and officials.

"I feel like I have people to represent," Plung said.

Gov. Jay Inslee recently appointed Estes of Richland to the state board. And Plung of West Richland was elected to the state board by school boards in the region.

Both men have long careers in education. Plung was a professor of communications and English at several universities, most recently Washington State University Tri-Cities and works at the Hanford site.

Estes taught in the Richland School District for several years. He is director of the Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics, or STEM, education program at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Neither has attended a state board meeting yet but both told the Richland board about some of the issues they want to address.

Estes said he's concerned about students graduating from high school with a lot of knowledge but no sense of how to apply it. "I'm interested in kids knowing why and knowing how," he said.

Education quality is at the top of Plung's priorities. He said the growing variety of how students are taught, especially through technology and online, may be diluting the effectiveness of education.

He's concerned with the administrative burden placed on districts for the sake of evaluating school performance but also a tendency to set students on a single academic path, such as focusing only on the sciences or only the arts.

"We need to give them enough variety," he said.

Richland board members raised their concerns, as well.

Increased testing requirements, new state programs and initiatives without ways to pay for them and a lack of attention to issues such as early education are examples of well-intended efforts by a group that doesn't interact with people outside of Olympia.

"I think the result is the state board takes positions that are divorced from reality," said Richland Superintendent Rick Schulte.

Plung said he wants to have regular meetings with Mid-Columbia school officials ahead of state board meetings. Estes also plans to be available to people in the districts.

"I'm approaching this as a learning opportunity, and my preferred style is to listen and learn," he said.

And it's that stance that left the Richland board hopeful of a productive discussion and debate with the state board during Estes' and Plung's terms.

"After listening to you, you absolutely need to be on the board," said Richland board member Mary Guay. "Be noisy. Don't get discouraged."

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald

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