The Oak Harbor School Board chose Nikki Tesch from among six candidates for the board’s open seat.
During the lengthy meeting Monday night, the board interviewed the candidates and then went into executive session for 45 minutes before returning to open session. The members unanimously voted to appoint Tesch to the position, which was vacated by John Diamond earlier this year.
Tesch previously worked for the Island County commissioners’ office and the mayor of Anacortes. She wrote grants professionally for the city of Oak Harbor but quit her government job because she “found it to be a conflict” with her desire to be on the school board. She has children in the district and described them as “fifth generation Oak Harbor residents.”
All six applicants were asked the same set of questions by the board, including why the February school bond measure failed and what areas of education they were passionate about.
Tesch said the bond failed because the public was not educated enough on what the money was for. She is passionate about the Running Start program and how teachers and administrative staff are being treated. She said the board’s top priorities should be social and emotional learning, inclusiveness, budgeting and supporting kids and teachers.
The second candidate, Dawn Schulz, has children in the district and volunteered in the district for many years. She mentioned special needs education as an area she was passionate about. She said the bond failed because there was a not enough understanding on what the money was for.
The third candidate, Jessica Thompson, pointed out she was the only candidate that had campaigned to be on the school board. She challenged Diamond in the November election and lost by a thin margin.
She said she wanted to be on the board to fight for the minority opinion and transparency that she doesn’t believe the school board has.
“There is a disconnect between the school board and the parents these days,” she said.
It was her opinion that the bond failed because of low test scores and those needed to improve before the district asked for more money. She said she was passionate about giving students a more “patriot-driven” curriculum because they’re currently being “indoctrinated to hate this country.”
She said she was not satisfied with the district’s response to COVID because “the masks were not working and that the social distance was not working.”
The fourth candidate, Larry Eaton, is an Air Force veteran and a former social sciences teacher in Oak Harbor for 30 years. He is now a substitute teacher. He served on the Oak Harbor City Council twice.
“I think I have the expertise, the experience and the credentials for the job,” he said.
He said the bond failed because “Oak Harbor has had a really difficult time passing levies in the past.” He added that people are stressed with high taxes and inflation and that “people are money-ed out.”
His priorities were to have more one-on-one teaching between teachers and students “a little less Chromebook stuff.” He mentioned critical race theory and that it was a “red herring” and the term made history “politicized.”
The fifth candidate, Aaron Syring, is a pharmacist at Island Drug and has children in the district. He said the bond failed because “the economy’s pretty crazy right now” and more community outreach might help a future bond succeed.
His top priority was student health, especially mental health, and said his kids are “tired a lot.”
He said another of his priorities was to “build community and relationships back. That was another angle of COVID that kind of hurt us,” referring to the divisiveness that is caused.
The sixth candidate, Dr. Frederic Wilson, is a retired orthopedic surgeon and Vietnam veteran. When asked about the bond, he said it was “a big puzzle to me why that bond issue failed.” He has seen the district outgrowing the facilities over the years and that the bond was needed. He said his top priority was “funding the gap between how much it costs to educate a student and how much we’re actually receiving.”
He was satisfied with the district’s response to COVID and that as a doctor, he “can tell you first hand, masks work.”
All board members selected Tesch as their choice for the position except Bob Hallahan who selected Dr. Wilson. All four ultimately voted for Tesch. She will be sworn in on June 13.