97j Candidates Sneddon and Cole speak

Incumbent Bob Sneddon (left) will face Tamara Cole for Position 3 on the Siuslaw School District 97j Board of Directors.

May 5, 2023 — There are four open positions on the Siuslaw School Board of Directors being contested on May 16. Each position has two candidates, an incumbent and a challenger.

Bob Sneddon is the current director for Position 3. His challenger is Tamara Cole.

Bob Sneddon

Occupation: Sales/broadcaster

Occupational Background: A total of 25 years in broadcasting in Florence. I spent 4 years managing Roby's Furniture. In my adult life, I have sold personal and commercial lines of Insurance, new and used vehicles, and managed restaurants.

Educational Background: Siuslaw High School, Diploma, General; U.S. Naval School of Photography, Certificate, Photography

Prior Governmental Experience: 12 years on City of Florence Planning Commission, 1 year Florence City Council (Moved out of town midterm), 20 years Western Lane Ambulance District board, 4 years Siuslaw School District board. 

Tamara Cole

Occupation: Owner/Operator BJ’s Ice Cream

Occupational Background: Financial Industry

Educational Background: Eagle Point High School, General

Prior Governmental Experience: Various school and community volunteer teams 

The Siuslaw News reached out to all eight candidates for Siuslaw School Board of Directors to ask about their views on some of the issues the community is asking us about. These questions cover just a few of the many important topics to consider before voting. More information on these and all candidates for the May 16 Special Election can be found at www.LaneCountyOR.gov/elections.  

The opinions of each of the candidates is their own. In the case of current Siuslaw School District Board Directors Armendariz, Lacouture, Pimlott and Sneddon, these opinions do not necessarily represent those of other Siuslaw School Board directors or the Siuslaw School Board as a governing body.

Do you agree with your fellow candidates who have stated that “these are troubling times for our educational system" and that there has been a recent "steady decline in our Siuslaw School District"? 

if yes - What are your reasons for believing so? How can the district improve? What are some positive things about the Siuslaw School District?

if no - Why do you disagree? Why do you believe there is a portion of the district community who sincerely believes these things?

Sneddon: Yes, these are troubling times for our educational system. The troubling times are not only for our educational system, but for our society in general, bringing about an increasing distrust in government. I disagree that there's been a "steady decline" at Siuslaw.  The pandemic resulted in a lot of division in society in general about masks, vaccines, and a general distrust of government. Several outside influencers have regularly promoted "red herrings" to further discredit public education, things like a completely overblown perception of "Critical Race Theory", Black Lives Matter and other so-called "political speech" in the classrooms. The pandemic has had a severe negative impact on learning. That's why Siuslaw schools have put recovering that "lost learning" at the top of the priority list. A variety of efforts have been made across all grade levels to focus on bringing kids back up to the grade levels they would have been at had they not lost nearly two years of classroom time.  A recent report released by the Oregon Department of Education listed Siuslaw's graduation rate at about 72%, well below the statewide average. I'd like to point out that prior to COVID our grad rate was pretty close to the state average and was on the upswing. I believe a more important number to look at is our "five year completer rate", as opposed to the "four year graduation rate". The latter: 72%, the former, 91%, well ABOVE the state average. What's the difference? The four year grad rate is based on the number of kids who begin their first day of high school as 9th graders, and ultimately wind up with a diploma at the end of what would be their 12th grade. It does account for transfers in and out over that time period. The five year completer rate accounts for kids who finish a little later than expected and get either a diploma or a G.E.D. The simple explanation for this is that the staff of incredible educators at Siuslaw High School refuse to give up on their students, making sure they do summer school, or even come back in the fall for more class time to complete their studies. One very important topic where we can improve is in getting more and better parent involvement. It's always difficult to connect with parents, but we can do better.  Community members are always welcome at board meetings, but that can be a bit intimidating at times. I'd like to see more informal "open house" type events to draw in parents and guardians. 

One big step we made this school year was involving up to two students from Siuslaw High School to serve with and on the board of directors. They would participate in all policy and other business discussions.  But, because of legal limitations, they would not be able to participate in some confidential matters. I introduced the concept to the rest of the board early in the school year and they all agreed to implement it. Our superintendent and the staff at the high school worked hard to develop the policies and the framework that would support the idea. Although one of the students had to take a leave of absence from her duties, we have benefitted from the "youth perspective" and look forward to continuing the program.

Cole: One of my primary reasons for running for the school board is because I am concerned with the steady decline in our school district. The statistics show it. Instead of rallying together with optimism as a school district during COVID and partnering with families and the community to inspire and instill hope, it was doomsday and fear. And the district continues to operate in isolation and fear now that we are post COVID. Bottom line is our school district is not welcoming to families or the community. Have you seen all the rules for simply speaking in front of the School Board? They craft answers to questions instead of being transparent. Mistakes are not acknowledged. Board meetings are scripted instead of inviting rigorous give and take. We don’t seek our partnerships in the community. Teachers are not inspired, motivated and encouraged to innovate. And worst of all-our kids suffer from the game playing. Academics are struggling, morale is low, excellent teachers are leaving our schools and excellent doctors with kids are leaving our community. We need to raise the bar and aim higher in every aspect of our district. We have a very generous community, wonderful families, great teachers and a rich Siuslaw legacy. We could do amazing things together.

“Get politics out of school” is a familiar refrain. What does that mean to you?

Cole: Personal and political agendas are creeping into the classrooms but they are also present in the district office. And they shouldn’t be. We need to focus on excellence in reading, writing and math. We need to ensure our kids are employable and ready for success by teaching them discipline, respect, deadlines, critical thinking and whatever else employers say they need more of. (Let’s ask!) If we do these things well, we are helping kids reach their greatest potential. The mission of our school district.

Sneddon: I remember hearing about it 50 years ago when I was going to Siuslaw High School.  It does seem to be a little more contentious in the first quarter of the 21st century. No, teachers should not tell students how to vote. Other than in other rare and very inappropriate circumstances, I truly don't believe that happens. But, teachers and anyone else involved in the educational process need to continue to talk about what various viewpoints mean. By bringing a delicate subject up in the classroom, that doesn't mean it's an endorsement, but rather a means of educating our kids and equipping them with the means to make intelligent decisions on their own. 

How can the district get the least engaged student through the doors in the morning and at the same time help the most engaged student reach their highest potential?

Sneddon: The best way, and one way that is currently being employed at SHS is with the utilization of Siuslaw West. That's our alternative high school. Not all students fit well in the traditional classroom model. Nobody has the same journey in life and unfortunately we have kids who are living in difficult situations and need a different approach to education. Siuslaw West offers them flexible hours and a lower student to staff ratio so they can get more "one on one" attention. The overall culture at main campus is also focused on trying to get every kid the best educational experience possible. We are continually evaluating which college level or "advanced placement" courses can be offered and I know the care and love all of the staff has for the ultimate success for all students is there.   

Cole: Kids on both ends of this spectrum need to be challenged. We cannot make exceptions and lower the bar over and over. Kids are smart and it shows we do not truly believe in their potential. And for the high achieving kids to do their work and meet deadlines only to have deadlines relaxed and moved for less motivated kids is discouraging and disrespectful. High expectations means knowing where students are and helping them aim higher. I have seen CROW do this over and over with great success in their student success in producing highly professional programs. I also think we are in the habit of creating a culture throughout the district to just check boxes instead of doing things the best they can be done. We need to constantly be seeking enrichment opportunities for kids and teachers.

Charter school in Florence… yes or no?

Cole: I do not know any specifics about the charter school but if something is good for kids, we probably should support it. Having competition and options in any aspect of society is usually good.

Sneddon: The question of a charter school in Florence is much more intricate than a simple thumbs up or thumbs down. I believe that parents deserve choices when it comes to educating their kids. The Oregon Legislature created the charter school system in the state several years ago and they have a lengthy and sometimes complex set of requirements that charter schools must comply with. The process is underway right now of evaluating the application of the Whitmore Classical Academy.