Leslie Hamada and Donald Cook. COURTESY PHOTOS

Leslie Hamada and Donald Cook. COURTESY PHOTOS

Q&A with four Kent School Board candidates on Nov. 7 ballot

Voters to decide among Andy Carter, Meghin Margel, Leslie Hamada and Donald Cook

Voters will decide two Kent School Board races on the Nov. 7 general election ballot.

Andy Carter is challenging Meghin Margel, who was appointed to the board in 2022. Donald Cook is challenging Leslie Hamada, who is in her fourth year on the board.

The Kent News emailed the same three questions to each candidate.

Why are you the best choice?

Carter: I am the best choice for District 2 because I understand the varied needs of KSD (Kent School District) students and staff and have the background and experience required to meet them. As a KSD parent, I have first-hand experience in both special ed and Highly Capable, transportation, and extracurricular programs. Professionally, I have a business background that includes employee recruitment/retention, internal/external communications, and budgets/balance sheets. In the community, I am on the board at Rotary Club of Kent, am a PTSA president and youth coach because I want to have a positive impact on youth in our community.

Through these varied experiences, I know I can help make KSD better by focusing on students, staff and community. I am the best choice for District 2 because I will bring a voice of change and a voice for accountability to the board. I want to help KSD rebuild trust with the community so we can pass necessary bonds and levies. With my own kids in KSD for another eight years, and as a homeowner in District 2, I am committed to ensuring KSD is successful in the long run.

Margel: I have worked in the financial services industry, serving our community, for nearly 30 years. My experience with providing strategic direction, budgetary oversight, defining goals and success measures, team building, and problem solving are the qualifications that lead to me being chosen for the Kent School District Board of Directors. Having been chosen from many candidates mid-school year last year, filling a vacated position, I want to continue my work in making a positive difference in our district and community.

Since on the board, I have been able to balance challenging the status quo while building community and consensus. I have brought a thoughtful, community-minded, student-focused approach to the board. I believe that if you want to see change you must be willing to be part of the solution. I want to be part of the future of Kent School District and truly believe the best is yet to come. My commitment to the district as a Kentridge High graduate, mother of two current students and long-time volunteer, along with my experience and vision for the future of the district, have led me to seek your support for my continued service on the Kent School District Board of Directors.

Hamada: My entire adult life in some capacity I have been raising, teaching, mentoring, or involved with children and young people. As a mom of three, grandmother of three, volunteer coach, PTA volunteer, or VBS teacher interacting with youth has been a constant in my life. One might ask why? Because I love kids and I believe there is no greater calling than helping shape the youth of our world.

Running for the school board demands much more. Experience in balancing large budgets, which I have had from my professional business career of 32 years. Community involvement so you can work with fellow board members to oversee our superintendent and district on many complex policies and issues. Listening and reaching out to include the community’s voice. As president of the board, in one year I answered 2,000 emails. In addition, being retired I have the time to commit to the full-time work which is needed locally, and beyond to the state level as presently serving as the board’s legislative representative.

Cook: I believe I am the candidate who will provide the change so sorely needed in our district. The current board and district administrators have created an environment in which it is extremely difficult for them to pass both the bonds and levies needed to provide for the education of our children. I aim to change that by working to:

a) Improve communication, both with the district and the public who are seeking answers to their questions in a timely manner.

b) Provide transparency in the decisions being made and the reasons for making them. Too often the public is looking to our district to tell them what they’re doing and why. Instead of being forthright and honest about their work, they dodge questions, provide vague and unhelpful answers, or ignore the public’s requests for information entirely, requiring formal information requests which in-turn creates a more hostile environment to no purpose.

c) Hold the district accountable for the words they say and the proposals they bring to the board and the public at large. If the district is unable to answer questions asked by a board member, no board member should be voting in approval of what the administration is requesting.

What is one of the main issues you plan to help resolve?

Carter: One of the main issues I plan to resolve is communication. Communication from and within the KSD comes in many forms but is not always received as it is intended. I want to bring a proactive approach to communication that starts by listening to students, staff, community members, and others. I understand communication comes in different forms—whether it be through verbal comments at a board meeting, written in email, posted online through social media, or non-verbally in the form of no votes.

As a board member, I will not discard or ignore any of it. I want to show that the board is listening, by building trust, and creating a culture of camaraderie between the school board and district leadership as well as the district and community at-large. There’s a trust problem within the district right now and I want to help fix it. We need open, honest, two-way communication to help the district build trust within the community that leads to votes that pass bonds and levies, so our students get the best possible education and best preparation for adulthood.

Margel: Better communication. Everyone wants to make KSD a great place for our students. To be great, we must solicit and listen to the many voices of those in our community - not just those most loud or powerful. Further, we must continue encouraging the input of the many stakeholders of the district and have transparency on the results of participation and outcomes. As a parent and community member, I know what it felt like to not be heard. I want to bring those important voices into the decisions of the board.

First, I want to foster better partnerships with our labor partners by having scheduled, regular meetings with teachers, principals and paraeducators to hear their concerns and questions. I value their input, and we need to make a space for that collaboration before votes are made on the dais.

Next, we need to continue to do more to encourage and listen to the voices of our students. Again, we need to make space for our students to take ownership of their education. Then, we as leaders must be willing to listen and make necessary and meaningful changes to meet the needs of those that are affected most by our decisions.

Hamada: The perception, in some of the public’s minds that Kent School District is not fulfilling its value words of: Equity, Excellence, and Community. We need to do a better job (even though we do lots of public relations work) of showcasing and interacting with our community. I have witnessed inroads that will begin to have returns if continued that the district is meeting the community where they are at.

All regular board meetings and work sessions are videotaped allowing access in person or at your chosen time. Special meetings to discuss moving 6th graders up to middle school and boundaries were held in a two-way conversation style. Last week a town hall was scheduled in person and online where the same style was applied.

This is coming to the public as a partner. We need to sustain this course in public relations and make sustainability and retaining a highly qualified staff another huge part of our commitment. Teachers and education are under attack and board members need to be fully committed to the task of funding our schools, and valuing our staff and making sure at the same time our student’s and community’s voices are heard.

Cook: I plan to stop the rubber stamping of the district’s requests. We need a 30-day waiting period on any proposal that has a large impact (financial or otherwise) on the district. There should never be a time when the district brings a request to the board on the same day they would like it to be voted on by the board. I will vote no on anything brought before me without a 30-day public inspection period held prior (other than true emergency requests where not doing so would be detrimental to the safety and well being of students and/or staff).

This is important, not only because it is the right thing to do, but also due to the need for rebuilding trust with our community. The community currently feels ignored and disrespected which, in my opinion, explains the inability of the district to pass their bond proposal back in February. The district administrators believe the bond failed because they didn’t explain their case well enough; that is not what I have seen and heard from our community. The lost trust is what has brought us to this point, and it needs to be rebuilt for us to move forward.

What changes need to be made in the district?

Carter: KSD needs strong and engaged leaders who are accountable and trusted within the community. The first step toward this goal is shifting the culture from its current reactive state, to one that is proactive. As a parent, I had to challenge the district when my child’s IEP was illegally stopped by the KSD. We were bullied by the district, forced to hire counsel, seek coverage in the local news, and eventually KSD compensated us for our legal expenses.

Had KSD operated proactively, issues in the IEP could have been addressed with the IEP team before anything illegal occurred. This approach would have prevented the loss of time, money, and reputation for KSD and community taxpayers. The community can push forward a proactive culture and change our current board leadership with the election of three new board members, who, to the best of my knowledge, have no existing relationships with the administration or the current board. As one of these new members, I will bring my experience and skills to use feedback from the community to push for change and accountability from the dais. With your vote, I will bring the needed, positive change for students, staff and community.

Margel: Kent School District is unique as we reflect the voices and needs of our community that might vary greatly even from districts closest to us. However, Kent needs to be more open to implementing proven, successful educational practices. We ask our students to be innovative and creative, and as a district we must model those behaviors.

First, I believe we need to better implement multi-tier supports for all students, including those identified for highly capable programs. Kent provides the Highly Capable self-contained classes starting in third grade. Our peers start this programming starting in first or second grade. We must do better at meeting the educational needs of all our students.

Next, we need to do better at introducing STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) programming into all our schools for all students, starting in pre-school and kindergarten. Other districts are providing more comprehensive programming, and this puts KSD students at a disadvantage going into college and the job market, especially for our female students and students of color.

Further, we need to look at more opportunities for career and technical education (CTE) options for those students that wish to pursue these lucrative and much needed careers.

Hamada: We have begun to hear more from our students and this will continue as they are truly our customers. We have begun to use the format of two-way communication in our public meetings and that needs to continue. We need to be making a concerted effort to move more toward interest-based bargaining with all our labor partners. We are trying to keep our budget balanced while raising the hourly pay of our paraeducators and other union partners. We need to find a way to bring in the needed services of mental health and special education more with the funds we have to work with.

When I have attended Multi-Cultural Nights at the schools, we need to bring that feeling to our entire community that we can have a fun time sharing in our talents, customs, and food and we become stronger as a community and everyone has a sense of belonging.

Cook: Our district needs to be transparent in their communications with the board and community first and foremost. Once communication has been properly rectified, then we can start to unravel the accountability problem. There have been multiple issues where the district has said they were going to do one thing and then changed direction without asking for input from the community first. The Kent School District is not a corporation to be run as a fiefdom but a public entity that is accountable to their constituents, whether they like it or not.

These changes will take time, but I believe it to be not only possible, but necessary if our district is to thrive in this community. The district and community should be working hand in hand to provide the best education possible to the children entrusted to our care, I hope to be provided the opportunity to make that happen.

Kent School District candidates

Director District No. 1

• Andy Song

(running unopposed)

Director District No. 2

• Andy Carter

• Meghin Margel

Director District No. 3

• Leslie Kae Hamada

• Donald Cook

Talk to us

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Andy Carter and Meghin Margel. COURTESY PHOTOS

Andy Carter and Meghin Margel. COURTESY PHOTOS

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