TONASKET — Nine candidates vying for three Tonasket School District board positions gathered Thursday to share their opinions and views on the district’s strengths, areas of improvement and what each candidate would like to contribute to the district if elected.

Candidates were given 2-3 minutes to briefly describe themselves and why they think they are fit for candidacy. 

Questions were asked by the Okanogan Civic Action Network - which hosted the event- along with audience questions. Not all candidates answered each question. Ballots are due back by Aug. 1 for the primary election. The top two front runners will appear on the Nov. 7 general election ballot.

Kent Clark, District No. 1

Kent Clark, who has lived in the Tonasket-area for six years, said he’s seeking a seat on the school board because he has four children in the school system, and has “seen a lot of good things and a few not so good things.”

Calling himself a fairly conservative-minded person, Clark said, “I appreciate the fact that money can do a lot of things in education, but I don’t think it’s the cure all for what’s wrong with some of the things in education.”

Clark said he believes public schools should be funded to a certain level, “but we also need to be conservative with the money that we do get and make sure that we’re responsible with that money.”

“We’ve had the opportunity in the past few years to vote for different bonds and levies,” he said. “Some of them have passed and some of them have failed, of course.”

Clark said when it comes to taxpayer’s dollars he would like to see a “reasonable plan forward,” that benefits students and is not spent on “frivolous” things.

What do you see as your individual contribution to be an effective board member? “Experience I bring is I’m a rancher and I know how to innovate and be creative,” he said. “We can’t always go to the same bank, this isn’t a rich community. sometimes we have to look for creative ways to find that funding source. It’s always going to be a problem in areas like this.”

Sharon Cox, District No. 1

Longtime Tonasket School District educator Sharon Cox said one things she would really like to see is the board, faculty, students and community work together.

“We all need to really work together, and be supportive of one another,” Cox said. “I’ve noticed that when there’s a good rapport among the faculty, there’s a better rapport with the faculty and students.”

“We’ve got some great families, great people in this community,” she said. “I taught for 38 years, 36 years were in middle schools.”

“When you have a deep feeling for children, it shows and they feel it,” she said. “I hope I win, but if I don’t, this (Kent Clark) is a very fine young man.”

What do you see as your individual contribution to be an effect board member? “I am so child oriented,” she said. “Teaching in Tonasket, I thought some of my eighth-grade boys were headed straight to prison, and they’ve turned put to be outstanding citizens.”

“These are our kids they have so many needs; I’d like to see a little more happiness and enthusiasm,” she said. “I want to see happy kids and little less stress. A little bit of fear is good, a little bit of stress is good, and a little bit of failure is good.”

Clint Duchow, District No. 2

Tonasket High School class of 1999 valedictorian Clint Duchow said he’s running for a school board position because, “I believe in doing the best of my ability to be the change that I wish to see.”

Duchow said before graduating high school he asked a few people for advice on his valedictorian speech. 

“The first person I went to was my girlfriend at the time, who has now been my wife for almost 18-years,” he said. “She’s like, you know, one of my favorite people is Mahatma Gandhi and paraphrased him saying, ‘be the change you wish to see in the world.”

He then asked his father for advice.

“He just said, ‘you know what I’ve found, if you give your best effort at whatever you’re doing you will be successful. Always give your best effort. That’s all you’ve got to do.”

What do you see as the basic purpose of the public schools and what is the role of the board and the fulfillment of that purpose?  “I think a lot of times, almost all the times, at some level people get characterized as the haves and have not,” he said. “I firmly believe that every single one of us; at some level are a have not. There’s something we need from other people.”

“I firmly believe that the public school is the form that levels the playing field for everyone,” he said. “Maybe I’m a really good singer but I’m a terrible athlete…but now because, we’re giving an opportunity, I can come in and I can help other people.” 

“Academics is obviously a critical part of education,” Duchow said. “But I think it’s so much more than that. I think our role as a board is directly to hold the superintendent responsible for that.”

What do you see as your individual contribution to be an effective board member? “I think what I can bring is my diversity of experience,” he said, adding both he and his wife served in the Air Force. “The last 11 years I’ve been in educational technology as a consultant. I’ve seen a wide variety.”

He said his parents and other family members worked in education. “I’ve been around educators in a lot of different capacities.”

Michael Turnington, District No. 2

Michael Turnington, a nurse practitioner, who moved to the area last year, said he has a vested interest in the future of Tonasket schools. 

He said his primary reason for running for election is because his five-year-old son will start kindergarten at Tonasket Elementary School later this fall. 

“Second, I think I’ve got various experience and background that may be a little different from some of the other candidates,” Turnington said. “I think I can bring to the air … changing certain things.”

“I don’t have a preset agenda … that would set me to one side or other on some of the events” that have happened.

He said he enjoys the outdoors, and has worked with Honor Flight and Boy Scouts of America.

What do you see as the basic purpose of the public schools and what is the role of the board and the fulfillment of that purpose? “The purpose of a public school is to give every child an opportunity for a quality education,” he said, adding students need the skills to become “life long learners in whatever they chose.”

“The school’s board position is to oversee the investments that our community makes….and to do it in a fiscally and responsible manner.”

What do you see as your individual contribution to be an effective board member? “There’s not a person up here I wouldn’t vote for,” he said. Noting he attended a high school that was in the lower 10 percent, Turnington said he has overcome adversities.

Robert P. Wilson, District No. 2

Local rancher and field man, Robert Wilson said he’s seeking a seat on the school board because “common sense long ago left our schools.”

“I really believe when you start sending a kindergartener home for having a pair of toenail clipper in his backpack or something…I think that we need to look more at common sense and some of these frivolous” policies at our schools, Wilson said.

“Unlike Clint (Duchow), I wasn’t a valedictorian, I didn’t even know what it was when I graduated,” Wilson said. “But I did graduate a daughter as valedictorian from Tonasket High School in 2014.”

Wilson said he and his family moved to the Tonasket-area in 2008, after resigning a board position from the Othello School District.

“Partially why we moved was because I had an opportunity to see what was going on within our own district,” he said. 

“I graduated two daughters from here,” he said. “I’ve got a son that’s in eighth grade.”

“I’ve got some experience in this,” Wilson said. “I believe in shut up or do something about it, and that’s what I did in Othello.”

“We had a problem down there with passing a bond to rebuild the school and hire some new educators,” he said. “I chaired that committee - after two failures - and the next time we ran it we passed by like, 7 or 8 points.”

“I feel with the experience I’ve got…I’m just kind of one of those people that likes to listen to what you have to say, and see if we can’t put it to good use.”

What do you see as the basic purpose of the public schools and what is the role of the board and the fulfillment of that purpose? “Part of the reason you see so many of us people sitting in front of you here running for school board is because there’s been a lot of ugly stuff going on in the last few months,” Wilson said. “Something that really bothered me and prompted me to run was the board and the superintendent - who they hired - did not agree. And that put the biggest black eye in this community when we got five people that hired this individual then they totally go against what his recommendation is, and they reinstate a coach that should have been put in jail.”

“That really, really bothered me,” he said. “I really believe that if you’re going to hire a person  to be the superintendent, and you’re one-fifth of that decision…it just blows my mind that we allowed that to happen.” 

“That’s why we have so doggone many people running for this right now.”

What do you see as your individual contribution to be an effect board member? “I’ve seen just about everything you can see out there from all different angles,” he said. “Those people can not be left behind. This is a very poor community. I just believe that I have a lot of experience in listening to different people.”

Jeff Yeckel, District No. 2

Retired Tonasket School District transportation supervisor Jeff Yeckel said he’s running for school board because he has a lot vested in the Tonasket-area, and wants to do what “morally right and ethical” for the school district..

“I’ve lived here all my life,” Yeckel said. “I’m a 12 year graduate out of Tonasket High School; my father graduated out of Tonasket High School, I had a son that graduated 12 years out of Tonasket High School, and a daughter that graduated 12 years out of Tonasket High School.”

After attending high school, Yeckel graduated from Denver Automotive and Diesel College and returned to Tonasket to work locally.

“I’ve worked for several companies, warehouses,” he said. “I have a lot vested in this town, and I think the reason why I’m here is I need to pay it back.”

“I’ve enjoyed living here; it has a lot to offer,” Yeckel said. “I wouldn’t trade this lifestyle for any other lifestyle that’s here.”

“My exception of being a board member is to me morally and ethically right,” Yeckel said. “And in doing that, you have to follow the moral and ethical rules.”

“That’s where I stand. And if people would treat others like they’d like to be treated, we’d go a long way in solving a lot of our issues.”

What do you see as the basic purpose of the public schools and what is the role of the board and the fulfillment of that purpose? “I think the purpose of a public school is to represent the public,” he said. “A public school is for the whole public; kids are an important part of that.”

Yeckel said it’s school board members are also part of example setting for students.

“I think it’s important that we think about what we’re saying and what we’re doing as adults, setting examples for our kids,” he said. “In order for them to be number one, everyone of you out there has to be number one, too.”

Ernesto Cerrillo, District No. 4

Incumbent Ernest Cerrillo said he is seeking re-election to the school board because he wants what’s best for children.

“I was born in Mexico; in 1998 I became a citizen,” he said. “I’m very grateful for how the system works in this country.”

“Living in a community like this, where everyone looks out for each other, feels good,” he said. “I feel pressure from all different places; I have no personal issues that I want to bring to the board. I just want what’s best for kids; best for the community.”

Allen Godwin, District No. 4

Organic tree fruit grower Allen Godwin said he’s seeking a seat on the school board because the district needs to step forward.

“I was born in Tonasket, raised on a working class family,” Godwin said. “My wife and I have two children that are in the elementary school; I feel like, so often in schools like Tonasket with lower income brackets, that we use a lot of excuses to emplane away challenges that we might have.”

“I feel like out kids here in Tonasket are just as smart as Chelan, Liberty Bell, and any other school

district in the state of Washington,” he said.

Godwin said he received a degree in biology with a minor in chemistry and physics at Central Washington University. 

“I came back as an Ag. consultant, and now I’m a full-time organic tree fruit farmer,” he said. “I really believe the future of our community here is really the education system and where we’re at,” he said. “How do we get doctors in Tonasket? How do we get lawyers in Tonasket? How do we get CEOs of hospitals? Those are people that are going to come from Tonasket.”

He said former graduates that return to the area are the ones who “build the foundation” for the community.

“When I graduated in 1990, I wasn’t the smartest kid in the class, but I wasn’t the slowest either,” Godwin said. “Me and about four of my schoolmates went to Central (Washington University)…out of the five of us, four of us took remedial classes,” he said. “I hear that story way too much.”

“I think everybody up here cares,” he said. “I want to strengthen the school and the community…pass a bond issue for this community…we need to step forward.”

“We need to learn how to be winners,” he said. “In the classroom, in athletics, all the way around…it’s hard work.”

What do you see as the basic purpose of the public schools and what is the role of the board and the fulfillment of that purpose? “I believe the purpose of a public education is to create a safe environment for our children to learn,” he said. “I think it’s our responsibility as a school, as a community, to give kids the best picture of the world, not just of Tonasket, but maybe a little bit farther than that.”

As for the board’s role, Godwin said policy is key. 

“It’s not bad to admit if you have a shortcoming here or a shortcoming there,” he said. “If we don’t evaluate ourselves personally and as a school board, there’s no room for improvement.

What do you see as your individual contribution to be an effective board member? “I believe I bring some of my core values, which is honesty integrity and hard work,” he said. “I also believe I bring maybe a little bit of business savvy; I like to think of myself as an innovative thinker, outside the box.”

Rene Maldonado, District No. 4

The oldest of 10 siblings, Rene Maldonado said if elected to the school board he would serve as a microphone for the community.

“My counselor told me I should go to work at Albertsons, that college wasn’t an option,” he said. 

But instead, he joined the Air Force to help pay for his college.

“I got my bachelors, my masters and part of my PhD,” Maldonado said. “Right now, I’ve got a lot of brothers and sisters who have gone through college and they’re still doing this, and eventually they’ll find their way.”

“What I feel that I bring to this board is that I believe that I have a different perspective,” he said. “Right now at my job I’m the coordinator for the foreign labor certification…part of my job is to ensure that locals get the first chance to those jobs.”

“My job is literally every single day looking at contracts,” Maldonado said. “I’m new at this (running for school board). I’ve never done this, I’m very nervous.”

“But I want to be your microphone,” Maldonado said. “I want to be given the chance to be your microphone. If you have guys have an issue, you know that you guys can come to this crazy guy…and he’s going to be your voice.”

“I’m not going to sit here and say that I’m always going to let you guys hear what you want to hear,” he said. “Because sometimes you can’t. But I’m always going to be upfront and honest with you. And that’s what I will bring to this board.”

What do you see as the basic purpose of the public schools and what is the role of the board and the fulfillment of that purpose?  “To me the purpose of education is the gateway out of poverty,” he said. “My family migrated to this country; Only in America. What’s the venue? A public education.”

“We shouldn’t need to go to a private education, because we have a public education and we need to make sure that it’s the best education that is possible.”

“We are here to be your microphone, to help assist the superintendent in guiding,” he said. “We’re in a time in the country where we’re globalized where our children are being trained in high school…they need to have options and it starts right here. The board, I believe, has the ability to help guide.”

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