School board should represent diversity of community | Guest Opinions

Our community’s demographics have changed significantly in the past two decades. The Blaine County School District now has 43 percent Hispanic students and is on track to have a majority Hispanic enrollment in a few years. These students and their families bring rich and healthy diversity to our community.

Right now, there is a wonderful opportunity for the district board to encourage members of the Hispanic community to apply for appointment for a school board seat that has become vacant. The zone that is up for appointment (Zone 2) comprises mainly the Woodside neighborhood, an area where many Hispanic community members reside.

Finding people willing to apply for the position is challenging. The job of a district board member is unpaid. Board members have responsibility for the largest municipal budget and employ the most people in the valley. Doing the job well is time-consuming. It is also thankless. Board members who hold the superintendent accountable and try to put the needs of children first often have been unsupported by status-quo power and financial interests in our community. Who would want to do such a job?

On the other hand, this is especially why Hispanic representation is needed on the board. Hispanic parents, in my experience, are generally focused on funding high-quality education, teachers and other budget items that support student success. For example, when I was on the board a few years ago, Cami Bustos was the only person on the board who could personally represent the needs of the Hispanic community. Hers was a refreshing, strong voice for accountability. Her focus was always education.

While getting through COVID is important, the unique needs, challenges and priorities of Hispanic students and their parents have not gone away. If the board had Hispanic representation, the district would find, for example, that Hispanic parents prioritize programs that even the playing field for all students, particularly programs that provide one-on-one tutoring. Other programs that are strongly supported by Hispanic parents are after-school programs, summer school and individualized college/career counseling. Better school food and increased access to healthy outdoor programs—both of which are offered at every other public and private school in the valley—could also become higher priority if Hispanic voices were heard.

Longer-term, this board should consider making roughly proportional Hispanic board representation a goal for our highly diverse district. Reaching out proactively to the Hispanic community is key, so Hispanic community members understand how to apply for appointment to the board or run for election and what the job entails. Perhaps volunteers could help with providing meals and child care if that would help more people consider participation on the board.

In the meantime, the appointment of a well-qualified member of the Hispanic community to represent Zone 2 would be a first step in enabling more diversity of opinion and information at the board table. The result will be a school board that is able to better meet the needs of the students, parents and community it serves.

Elizabeth Corker served on the Blaine County School District’s board of trustees from 2013 to 2017.

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