Five join race for Shoreline board seats

08/22/2018

The race for Shoreline’s board is lining up to be the most competitive in recent history, with five candidates vying for two open seats that represent Point Reyes Station and Inverness. 

On Nov. 6, incumbent Tim Kehoe—a third-generation rancher who has served on the board for 17 years—will face off against two parents, a retired bus driver and a young West Marin native.

Over the next four years—the length of a trustee’s term—the seven-member board will be responsible for choosing a principal for West Marin School, navigating facilities upgrades across the five-campus district, and closing in on an achievement gap between Anglo and Latino students, among many other challenges. 

“I feel a little obligated to stay and take part in the open process to select a replacement for [the West Marin School principal] position,” Mr. Kehoe said. He said the field may be crowded because of how the board handled the non-renewal of the last principal’s contract. “Some people probably don’t like the way we handled it,” he added.

Mr. Kehoe joined the board in 2001 in the spirit of giving back to the community. His grandmother, father and children all attended Shoreline schools. 

In the course of his tenure, he helped oversee the construction of a new gym in Point Reyes, a new school in Bodega Bay and a Tomales High School remodel. He also championed the Tomales High agriculture program, which attracts many ranching and farming children and prepares them for a career in agriculture.

Of the many changes he has seen over the last several years, demographics stand out. “There are more people living in Point Reyes and surrounding towns, and a bigger percentage of Hispanic kids,” he said. 

Shoreline has adapted to these changes by upgrading facilities and expanding scholarship opportunities; last year’s seniors were awarded over $400,000 for college funds. Nonetheless, there remains a significant performance gap between White and Hispanic students, with the former scoring high in mathematics and English and the later scoring low in those subjects, according to state data.

Last year was particularly tumultuous for the district. The board voted in July to remove the principal of the West Marin School, Matt Nagle, a Mexican-American who ran this spring for the top education post in the county. 

In his place they assigned an interim position to Chris Eckert, a former six-grade and physical education teacher. Mr. Eckert will serve through this school year; after the fall semester the board will begin the process of selecting a full-time principal.

That process will involve a committee of staff, parents, and several board members who will narrow down the pool of candidates to two or three. The board will then vote to select one.

“One of the things I can still remember is when I got sworn in at Tomales High School by Mary Jane Burke,” Mr. Kehoe said. “After the ceremony she said, ‘Do not forget why you’re here—it’s for the kids.’ And that’s what my focus has been.”

For other candidates, like Leslie Scott, who drove a bus for the district for nine years, transparency from the school board is a major focus. “I want to see more public participation in the decision-making process,” she said. “[This election] feels like a chance to get even more involved in my community, and a chance to maybe give something back.”

Driving the bus to West Marin, Inverness, and Tomales “wasn’t just a job,” she said. “It was a chance to get involved with the kids.” Ms. Scott was interested in continuing her involvement, and went to an informational meeting held by Superintendent Bob Raines last June on how to run for the board and what the job entails. 

When Mr. Raines explained the Brown Act’s confidentiality rules regarding public disclosure, the board’s actions fell into place for her. “It makes sense when explained,” said Ms. Scott, “but the board did not really inform constituents well.”

Ms. Scott’s frustration echoes broader sentiments in the school community. Parents circulated a vote of no-confidence in the board and Supervisor Raines this spring. Ms. Scott said the action mirrored turmoil in 2012 when West Marin School’s principal at the time, Anne Harris, was forced out. 

“[Ms. Harris] and I had a good working relationship and I thought she was a good principal,” she said. In response to her sudden firing, Ms. Scott started a website to support her and wrote letters to the Light that prompted a request from then-Superintendent Stephen Rosenthal to clear such letters with the board, which she ignored. 

“[Superintendent Rosenthal] was the point man, but Tim Kehoe was the number-one board member behind the ouster of Anne Harris,” she said. “I think it’s time for him to go.”

Her experience led to her campaign slogan: “Openness, transparency and trust…for a change.”

“Transparency includes doing whatever it takes to help constituents understand why, in certain situations, the board can’t provide more information about its decisions,” Ms. Scott said. “The board has operated with a public perception of too little accountability for too long, and people are tired of it.”

Another hopeful is Heidi Koenig, who has lived in Inverness for 18 years and has one son who is a sophomore at Tomales High and another starting fourth grade at West Marin. She helped organize baseball and basketball teams at West Marin and served on the site council. Ms. Koenig described her run for the board as “sort of a natural progression.”

“We love Shoreline, we love the schools and we love the community. I felt like I wanted to give back to that,” she said.

She also works as an archaeologist for Environmental Science Associates, which helps project developers and agencies comply with the regulatory requirements pertaining to cultural resources.

Ms. Koenig also wants to bring more attention to the southern end of the district, which she believes is underrepresented. Board members generally attend fewer meetings regarding southern schools, she said, explaining that “the focus is in Tomales because of the district office and high school. Because I have a foot in both doors, I’m in a good position to know what’s going on on a day-to-day basis.”

Capella Parish, another candidate and the parent of a fifth-grader, describes herself as a community activist. Ms. Parish moved to Point Reyes Station in March from Sea Ranch on the northern Sonoma Coast. She has a background in firefighting and emergency medical services, so her priorities include health and safety. 

“I’m interested in finding alternatives to youth violence and drinking,” she said. “I do feel that, as a community, we really have to pull together to help kids have inspirational role models and more employment opportunities.”

She also stressed her desire for better communication from the board. “It is troubling to me as an outsider looking in,” she said of the recent turmoil. “I’m concerned any time there is a removal of an important person so rapidly without explanation.”

Ms. Koenig emphasized her desire for more stability in the district. “All school boards are tumultuous because people care about their kids, and education is what they care about most,” she said. “My primary goal is to create some stability and bring some humor to the board.”

Yet Ms. Scott stressed the difference between stability and stagnation. “There is a lot of stagnation on this board. It’s time for some fresh blood, and that’s what I intend to bring.” 

For his part, Charlie Kain-Williams, a 25-year-old account executive at a Berkeley-based customer service company, is running to represent the students. He lives in the town he grew up in, Point Reyes Station, and is a graduate of Tomales High. After getting his business degree from the University of San Francisco in 2015, he worked both as a carpenter and in customer service.

“What I have that’s really strong is this deep, shared identity with the students in the district, as well as a burning desire to get involved,” he said.

Mr. Kain-Williams echoed the need for a new outlook in the district. “Students need a governing body that has a fresh perspective and is really looking at the best way to move forward with the situations being what they are today, as opposed to how the schools were and job market was in the past,” he said. 

The second Shoreline seat up for election—representing Tomales—is uncontested. It will go to incumbent Jane Healy, who has sat on the board for 13 years. She said her priority is “keeping focus on things that are long term, because there is always short-term chaos and disruption of the day-to-day and you have to realize that that’s just people participating.”