One of two Woodland Public Schools Board of Directors races has an incumbent focused on rectifying learning loss facing off against a challenger who wants the board to push back on statewide pandemic mandates in schools.
The WPS board District 4 seat has incumbent Tammy Graham against Trish Huddleston in the November general election. The seat is one of two up for election this year.
Graham was first elected in 2019, taking over a vacant position.
“Two years isn’t a long time on the board, but it’s been a lot of learning, and I really believe in the work that the school board is doing, and I would like to continue that for the next four years and perhaps even beyond that,” Graham said.
Previously a teacher, Graham started taking care of her family’s children full-time, and all three attend school in the district. Regarding chief issues in the district, she said the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic has created the greatest issue: learning loss.
Graham said now that students are back in buildings five days a week the board has seen significant learning loss. She said fixing that loss is a primary goal of hers, as she plans to find a solution within the district’s budget.
“Some kids did OK (during the pandemic) and some kids really, really struggled,” Graham said. “Not only academically … (but) social-emotional learning is really important.”
Graham also addressed some of the more controversial topics in education across the state. On comprehensive sexual health education, Graham said the district isn’t changing its current curriculum. She says she’s personally reviewed the curriculum as a parent, noting parents have the ability to opt their children out.
“I really feel like the sex ed, it’s a non-issue within our district. I think parents just have questions, and then when we inform them that we are not overhauling and making some of these big changes, I think people feel really good about it,” Graham said.
On critical race theory, Graham noted the concept has been around for a while, only now gaining traction in public discourse. She pointed to the board’s approval of an inclusion, diversity and equity statement as the district’s response to the topic.
“We are not interested in pushing an ideology. We don’t endorse a curriculum where students are taught what to think,” Graham said.
She recognizes not all students start at equitable economic situations, and said the district is committed to providing students what they need to graduate.
Graham did say there is some training with regard to recent legislation about diversity, equity and inclusion, though what she’s seen is more encouraging than a cause for concern.
Graham, who moved into the district 14 years ago, said her reason for continuing on the board is a sincere desire to benefit the district’s mission.
“I don’t come and seek to be on the board for a single issue or topic,” Graham said. “I show respect to everyone, even those you have a different opinion than me. Respect is crucial.”
Graham’s challenger, Huddleston, moved to the district from Vancouver in February 2020. She said the pandemic and 2020 election sparked her interest to seek an elected office.
“Watching the kids suffer and go through all these crazy changes opened my eyes and made me want to do something good for my kids and for my country,” Huddleston said.
Huddleston felt the board isn’t standing up to state mandates on how K-12 education functions, calling for “local leadership and local control.”
Huddleston, who has one child in the district and another who was enrolled until mask mandates became an issue, also wants to see a more transparent school board, pointing to limited meeting records compared to other boards and local governments. One of the first things she would do if elected would be to push for meetings to be recorded and posted online, she said.
Huddleston took issue with recent controversial topics in education, namely the discourse on critical race theory. She said she is impressed with the equity statement the current board passed, though she has concerns over individual teachers’ interpretations of the new mandated training.
“Each individual teacher should be closely watched, I believe, with this,” Huddleston said. “Even though the board has adopted this equity statement, it doesn’t mean that teachers aren’t teaching their own thing in the classroom.”
She said the broader curriculum has lost the focus K-12 education should have.
“Our education system is set up to teach literacy, how to read, write, mathematics, history and science, but with all this other stuff like critical race theory, the comprehensive sex (education) … there’s all these other things being implemented in school, taking away from academic education,” Huddleston said.
With the pandemic causing some families to take their kids out of public school, Huddleston said if mandates on masking and vaccination remain without a choice, taxpayers’ money should “follow the backpack,” saying she wants to look into school choice measures.
Overall, Huddleston felt the board isn’t using their authority to push back on measures enforced by the state.
“I think that (the board needs) to be aware of their position and exactly what its authority and their power is, who they represent, and what they’re supposed to be doing,” Huddleston said. “I feel like they’re not doing the job that they’re elected to do.”
“I don’t know if that’s because they don’t know, or if they just won’t even accept the fact and they’re too scared to stand up to the state,” Huddleston said.